To diagnose patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammatory disease that disrupts the esophagus, current medical knowledge requires anesthesia and an endoscopy. This time-consuming and invasive process, combined with the low likelihood of a patient having EoE, leads doctors to sidestep testing for it.
However, professor Christopher Gregg’s lab at the University of Utah didn’t think these difficulties should stop patients from getting easier, faster diagnostics. He founded Etched DNA, a startup focused on measuring RNA, rather than DNA, to streamline the process. The company is cutting out the need for an endoscopy altogether with a partnership with students at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute.
“Most personalized genomics companies analyze your DNA sequence,” Gregg said. “But, throughout your life, you’re going through all kinds of changes with your diet, sickness and stress, and your health fluctuates. Your DNA doesn’t respond to physiological changes in your body that tell you about your health. Our idea was instead to measure RNA. When RNA molecules are generated, they create a real-time measure of what’s going on in your body. We wanted a simple way of getting RNA samples, and so we developed a way to do a swab of the mouth. We’ve learned a lot of new things about how that controls the expression of our genes, and we wanted to find a home for this new knowledge in the real world.”
Gregg and the students in his lab wanted to find a way to translate the work they were doing in the lab to clinics and patients around the world. When applying for a small seed grant through the U’s Center for Medical Innovation, the team was faced with creating a business model. That’s when they first got involved with the Lassonde New Venture Development Center in 2017.
“It’s incredible to be working with people from all kinds of backgrounds,” said Danny Powell, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate and New Venture Development student in Etched DNA.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2019 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers and entrepreneurs.