Alex Blair, Jay Kumar and Graham Lieberman met on their first day at Harvard Medical School and quickly realized that they all shared a common goal. “We all had an early desire to build something of lasting value—whether it be a company or a product,” explained Kumar. “We spent the next 3 years of medical school brainstorming dozens upon dozens of ideas, big and small.”
It wasn’t until Blair’s fourth year at HMS, and Lieberman and Kumar’s first year at Harvard Business School as part of a dual MD/MBA program, that the three friends finally found what they had been searching for. In October of 2015, Blair began researching gas-sensing technology that the group could leverage to detect volatile organic compounds—gases that exist in lung cancer patients. What he found was a technology that would provide the foundation for a diagnostic company—Astraeus Technologies—that would begin making waves in the Boston health tech community in a matter of months.
Blair’s research unearthed a paper that described an inexpensive gas sensing technology called a CARD (Chemically Actuated Resonant Device)—a modified near-field communication tag that is customized to activate when exposed to a certain gas.
If you’re not quite sure what that means, you’re certainly not alone. “Ultimately you can think of it as a circuit on a piece of paper that has been broken,” Kumar patiently explained to MedTech Boston in an interview. “It’s a circuit that’s largely broken and that heals itself when you expose it to a certain gas.”
They immediately recognized that if the technology could be adapted to detect gases found in the breath of lung cancer patients, it could serve as an integral piece of a powerful diagnostic device. Blair arranged to meet with the CARD’s inventor, Joseph Azzarelli, a PhD student in the lab of Professor Tim Swager in the Chemistry Department at MIT. Shortly thereafter, Blair, Kumar, Lieberman, and Azzarelli began working on what would become Astraeus Technologies.
The four founders aim to develop a lung cancer specific CARD, or L-CARD, and a smartphone application that would allow physicians to easily interpret the results of the L-CARD within seconds. “We see this as a point of care screening tool,” explained Kumar. “This could be something that is done in the primary care provider’s office during a routine checkup, even.”
Since the Google search that turned up Azzarelli’s paper in October, Astraeus Technologies has won numerous prizes including the first prize and the audience choice prize at the MIT $100K Accelerate, as well as the audience choice prize at the MIT Sloan Healthcare and Bioinnovations Conference. Next week they’re headed to the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center at UMass to compete in the M2D2 $100K Challenge.
It’s no surprise that Astraeus Technologies continues to rack up awards and prize money. If the technology works as planned, it will provide a vast improvement upon the current screening standard, the low-dose chest CT scan. Unlike a CT scan, the anticipated cost of producing an L-CARD is minimal and the test itself is harmless. Furthermore, the results are almost instantaneous and potentially much more accurate.
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