SOUTH AFRICA – Rapid-test and laboratory platform development start-up company BioCode has received a second grant of US$473000 (R7-million) from research commercialization fund the University Technology Fund to finance its development of a rapid inflammation test that can be used as a screening and monitoring tool for inflammation and inflammatory conditions.
“We are currently developing a rapid test to detect the inflammatory molecule Serum Amyloid A (SAA) in a drop of blood. SAA and other inflammatory molecules increase when a person has inflammation,” BioCode co-founder and Stellenbosch University (SU) Physiological Sciences Department head Professor Resia Pretorius says.
She notes that cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute Covid-19 and even pheno-type long Covid-19 have increased inflammatory molecules like SAA in circulation.
These inflammatory molecules cause blood to become sticky and it could result in a heart attack, deep vein thrombosis or even a stroke.
The BioCode rapid test for SAA can detect the molecule fast enough in blood for early risk identification.
“SAA has long been investigated as a predictor for cancer risk and as a prognostic marker. Elevated SAA level also directly correlates with poor prognosis and tumour aggressiveness in various cancers.
“Although SAA is mainly produced in the liver, it has recently been demonstrated that cancer tissue also expresses SAA,” says BioCode co-founder and SU Department of Physiological Sciences professor Anna-Mart Engelbrecht.
The BioCode team has collected and analysed the blood of many control and inflammatory patients and, with the datasets, can set the appropriate specifications for the rapid tests.
The test is as easy as a Covid-19 antibody or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) rapid test. It consists of a small cassette that takes a finger-prick blood sample and, together with a mobile reader application that scans the results, quantifies the concentration of SAA in the blood, explains Pretorius.
“Anyone can do a test for SAA and results are available within minutes. The results are integrated with our Internet of Things platform that provides an interface to monitor patient results,” she says.
“Our goal is that the rapid test will be the first of many disease risk screening tools that BioCode will develop. Ultimately, we want to lead the biotechnology movement in South Africa towards accessible preventive healthcare and we want to empower people to take charge of their own health,” Pretorius says.
BioCode evolved through a biosensor research collaboration between the SU Physiological Sciences Department and the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
The UTF contributed R5-million and SU another R2-million as part of its partnership with UTF.