The PERL Prize Is Awarded to a Campus Start-up

Déborah Heintze, coufounder of Lunaphore © 2014 Jean-Bernard Sieber

Déborah Heintze, coufounder of Lunaphore © 2014 Jean-Bernard Sieber

Last night the start-up Lunaphore, which is developing a rapid and precise system for cancer detection, won the PERL Prize (Entrepreneurial Prize for the Lausanne region). Awarding 50,000 Swiss francs to the winner, the prize is intended for innovative start-ups in the region. Another start-up from campus, G-Therapeutics, won the "coup de coeur du jury," receiveing 10,000 Swiss francs.

Oncologists treat cancer in the most effective manner possible by adapting the treatment, but first, they must identify the specific type of tumor. The new diagnostic tool developed by the start-up Lunaphore, which is both inexpensive and easy to use, enables doctors to perform an accurate assessment of the disease in merely a few minutes. Several hours are currently required.

This microfluidic system also improves accuracy. At the start of clinical trials carried out in collaboration with the Institute of Pathology at the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV), analyses were made of 76 samples of breast tumors. The traditional method of analysis gave ambiguous results for 27 of them, against 3 with this new technology. In other cases, the analysis proved to be 100% correct.

The current technology requires bathing the samples in a full antibody solution for a long period of time so that the entire fabric is penetrated. In this prolonged bath, the results can be false because the antibodies may cling to the wrong place. With the microfluidic chip developed by Ata Tuna Ciftlik during his PhD at EPFL, the sample is irrigated evenly over a definite time span.

The device comes in the form of a chip made of glass and silicone with tiny channels 100 microns in diameter. A thin section of the tumor is placed in contact with the chip in order to be uniformly irrigated by the channels. The injected fluid is rich in specific antibodies that cling to the desired proteins. The amount of protein detected is then read via fluorescence.

Since it uses much less reagent solution, the microfluidic system reduces costs by 50–75%, says Ata Tuna Ciftlik. The creators of this Microsystems Laboratory 2 spin-off are currently fundraising and hope to see their device on the market in 2015. Selected among the winners of Venture 2014, Lunaphore also earned a spot in the national start-up program that enables one of the three co-founders to follow an intensive program of entrepreneurial and business development over the course of ten days in June in the United States.

G-Therapeutics won the PERL Prize's "coup de coeur du jury." This year has been a good one for G-Therapeutics, a spin-off from the Courtine Lab, which just last year won the 100,000 euro grand prize of the Hello Tomorrow Challenge, a global competition for start-ups that gathered 1300 promising projects in Paris. The start-up is developing a technology to reactivate the voluntarily controlled motor functions of the spinal cord of a paralyzed person after an accident.