First timers: NanoIVD developing an easier cancer-testing tool

In downtown Los Angeles, the bus stops are sporting posters for an upcoming Nicholas Cage film called “Knowing” about a man who believes he is the first to know about the coming apocalypse and is tortured by being a modern day Cassandra.

Catch a bus and ride several blocks to the Good Samaritan Hospital, walk over to one of the nearby office buildings and you’ll find a group of researchers working on a way to detect a much more personal apocalypse: cancer.

Cancer causes about 13% of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If doctors can detect cancer before it spreads through a person’s body, it’s a lot easier to treat. The WHO estimates that about one-third of cancer deaths could be prevented with early treatment. That’s about 2.5 million lives that could be saved each year.

The researchers at Los Angeles-based medical device startup NanoIVD Inc. are building a tool doctors can use to test a patient’s blood for genetic disorders that come from cancerous tumors. The device is a lab-on-a-chip, running tiny amounts of blood through a semiconductor sensor to test DNA.

This type of technology has been used for genetic tests since the mid-1990s and gained support from the U.S. Department of Defense to test for the presence of biological weapons. Lab-on-a-chip technology is able to provide rapid results and can be made relatively inexpensively.

NanoIVD launched in November 2008 and quickly filed for a provisional patent for its technology. Now the company is looking to raise $1 million in venture funding from investors, according to a filing made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company is still in its most formative stages, with a staff of five scientists from University of California, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

The team is led by Sunnie Kim and Eric Stanbridge, a microbiology professor from the University of California at Irvine, who joined the company in early February. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment.

NanoIVD is working on pancreatic and liver cancer first. These cancers have well-understood genetic markers that can be easily treated if caught early.

If the startup is successful, doctors may find themselves in the position of “knowing” before it’s too late for their patients. —Alexander Haislip