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Q&A: Amogha Tadimety & Alison Burklund

Mar 15, 2021   |   by Charles R. Spydell   |   Dartmouth Engineer

The difference between minutes and hours to diagnose an illness can literally mean life or death. That’s why PhD candidate Alison Burklund and Amogha Tadimety Th’20, a recent PhD Innovation Program graduate, were determined to spin their Dartmouth research into a startup focused on developing lifesaving technology. The two friends and former lab mates recently launched Nanopath, whose diagnostic tool has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.

Photo by Allegra Boverman/Union Leader.

What drew you to this work?

Burklund: Our big-picture goal is to improve health worldwide. When I joined the lab, Amogha was working on highly sensitive technologies for cancer monitoring. I’m passionate about infectious disease and global health. With infectious disease, diagnostic time is critical. We saw this opportunity to couple my work in rare cell and biomarker capture with Amogha’s work in ultra-sensitive biosensing.

What impact does nanopath's technology have for patients?

Tadimety: Right now the method of diagnosing patients with bloodstream infections and finding the right treatment requires a lot of steps and hospital visits. There are about 2 million cases a year and about 8 percent of patients in the ICU end up with a bloodstream infection. Mortality rates increase by about 7.6 percent every hour that treatment is delayed, so quicker diagnosis is key to saving lives.

Burkland: There’s also a growing problem of antibiotic resistance. This means clinicians have to be very careful in how they administer antibiotic treatments. Our tool will help them better target their therapy quickly and more accurately.

How does it work?

Burklund: The patient’s blood sample goes into what is essentially a small benchtop machine on a disposable cartridge.

Tadimety: Our technology eliminates nucleic acid amplification requirements—reducing so-called “noise”—so it is able to pinpoint the pathogen much more quickly.

Burkland: Our goal is to get the total diagnostic timeline down to less than one hour.

How did the PhD Innovation Program support you in your research and startup venture?

Tadimety: It’s the only program of its kind where you do your full work as a PhD and are also provided resources to translate your research. I had access to Dartmouth’s business and medical schools, the hospital, and a whole entrepreneurial network. I learned the nuts and bolts of putting together a business plan, how to file an IP, and opportunities for grant funding to get things off the ground.

Burklund: It helped reframe our mindset and approach. Often people invent something really cool and then try to find a market for it. It’s deeply frustrating to see knowledge sitting in publications or a technology trapped in a lab. What the PhD Innovation Program helped us do is look for the global problem and use our knowledge and core engineering skills to develop solutions for human need.

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