This startup wants to kick-start a molecular electronics revival

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“That’s a great idea. I think chip makers have a long way to go in biosciences for us,” says Nils Walter, a chemist at the University of Michigan and co-founder of Elite Sciences The results are intended to use fluorescence or light emission instead of electric signals to read.

Roswell is not the only company pursuing chip-based biosensors. Munich-based dynamic biosensors, for example, offer chips with DNA-based sensors that use light. But Roswell’s production approach produces specific sensors that are flexible enough to conceive of a “universal biosensor” that can be mass-produced with modern chip-building techniques, Merriman says.

At the heart of Roswell’s circuits is a molecular wire made up of a chain of amino acids attached to the rest of the chip just like a regular metallic wire. To make the sensor, the lab attaches the atom to the other end of the wire. When this molecule interacts with its intended target – be it DNA, antibody, or any of a number of other biologically related molecules – its electrical conductivity changes. The chip records this change, and the software releases the corresponding interaction details.

Roswell Biotechnologies

To assemble thousands of sensors, Roswell starts with a silicon chip studded with prefabricated nanoelectrodes, then uses an electric voltage to pull the molecules out of the solution and into the chip. This part of the assembly process takes less than 10 seconds; In the past, similar nuclear processes took hours or even days.

Roswell’s approach could revive some of the hopes of molecular electronics researchers 20 years ago. At the time, it seemed that small-sized atomic circuit components could help make small and computational chips more dense. George Church, a Harvard geneticist and a member of Roswell’s Scientific Advisory Board, explains that, interestingly, a nuclear chipmaker can, in principle, “self-assemble” circuits, add atoms under highly controlled conditions and allow them to assemble into the desired structure. .

The excitement about such nuclear properties led to the rapid growth of the molecular electronics sector in the late 1990s. It seemed like the perfect moment. “These were all predictions in the 80’s and 90’s, about how the silicone brick wall would hit,” Tour recalls. But he did not; The engineers kept moving forward. “We were not shooting at a fixed target. Silicon continues to perform better, “he says. Philip Collins, a physicist at the University of California, Irvine who previously consulted with Roswell, says the next collapse of molecular electronics was rather dramatic:” I would say that nine out of 10 researchers Got out. ”

With the new chip, Roswell is instead targeting an application for which silicone is unsuitable. Atoms are special because “they can be more complex than binary,” says Collins. “They can encode all these interesting different states, such as in biochemistry, that we don’t have other ways to access.”

The new vision shared by Roswell and other on-chip molecular technology makers is for biosensors that will enable people to check biomarkers such as vitamin levels or evidence of infection with a little more hassle than examining their heart. Rate on smartwatch. In Roswell’s case, thousands of biosensors could simultaneously detect various molecular interactions, and the chips would be disposable.

Walter of the University of Michigan notes that although Roswell’s device can accommodate more than 10,000 biosensors on a single chip, containing thousands or millions, it will push the device to more marketable functionality, especially when it comes to finding low concentrations of biomarkers early on. Disease

Mola and Maryman
Roswell CEO, Paul Mola (left) and Barry Merriman, CSO and co-founder.

Roswell Biotechnologies

The commercial biotechnology market is not a new field for church, merryman and other company leaders. But the Roswell team’s experience and expertise have not made the company’s financing journey as easy as CEO Paul Molla once hoped. After the company’s paper in January, Mola says, he had hoped to raise venture capital, but that didn’t happen. Although Roswell has raised more than $ 60 million so far, mainly from strategic investors and representatives of wealthy families, it almost had to lay off its employees in February.

Mola is frustrated by the lack of investment in the company, while it is very close to commercialization. “We think we’ve really done a lot with so little,” he says. “Now we really need the community to move forward and support us and take us all the way.”

Mola, who is black, says part of the problem lies in the troubled track record with the diversification of the biotech industry – a concern that the state reported in early March. “If you think about entrepreneurs and founders, they usually have one entrepreneur in their family, they have network and investor access. From a systemic and fundamental point of view, black founders don’t have that,” he says. “I don’t have that.”

Mola says Roswell is still on track to release a commercial device by the end of the year. The startup is going to launch its next funding series. It is also introducing a service that may attract customers before it becomes possible to sell chips: scientists will now be able to send samples to Roswell and its molecular biosensors will work on them at home, for example collecting valuable data. , Real-time work of new drugs.

For the tour, Roswell’s work is becoming a symbol of the rebirth of molecular electronics: “It’s good to be able to see something happen and say, well, it worked, it took longer than we thought.”

Carmella Padavic-Kalaghan is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York.

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