Award Abstract, SBIR Phase I: Development of a Miniaturized Multiwell Plate Reader

Award Abstract #1647768


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project will be the alleviation of several current difficulties in the growth measurement of many bacterial species, especially anaerobic and other fastidious organisms. A large number of these species are naturally occurring in the human body, and they have recently been shown to play critical roles in allergies, autoimmune diseases, dietary health, cancer, infection response, and more. The study of these species is considered by many to be the next frontier of modern medicine, especially as current approaches to managing infectious diseases, such as traditional antibiotics, appear to be losing effectiveness. However, current measurement technology is largely incompatible with the specialized environments and chambers in which anaerobic organisms must be grown. There is therefore a large unmet need for better ways to measure anaerobic bacterial growth; this need is growing quickly as interest in the field increases. The ability to conduct high-throughput experiments in specialized environments will become critical as research into various human microbiomes accelerates, and demand for high-volume data grows. The existing market for high-throughput measurement devices is at least $300 million and growing; the proposed technology will expand that market to fields it has never served.

This SBIR Phase I project proposes to develop technology for measuring growth of many bacterial samples in a format much smaller than currently available high-throughput devices. The rise of systems and computational biology demonstrates a growing demand for large amounts of quantitative data; the variety of microbes in the human body necessitates such an approach. However, this type of data is currently nearly impossible to collect in anaerobic and other specialized environments. This project aims to bring high-throughput growth measurement techniques to these environments by creating simplified, miniaturized hardware paired with advanced real-time analysis and control software. The project?s first objective is to refine a novel proof-of-concept optical density measurement method to achieve accuracy and precision comparable to traditional techniques, and verify using bacterial growth and inorganic liquid testing. The next goal is to design a hardware enclosure small and robust enough to allow compatibility with the smallest and most taxing environments. Finally, software will be developed to manage a high number of bacterial experiments (and devices) running in parallel without sacrificing data fidelity or high resolution. It is anticipated that the resulting high-throughput measurement system will greatly expand researchers' abilities to characterize microbes of increasing clinical relevance.

Nikki Hastings