Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience pivots to detecting dangerous indoor bacteria

Paul Lem
Spartan Bioscience CEO Paul Lem.

The Ottawa startup hoping to revolutionize personal DNA testing has pivoted its portable solution to detecting airborne Legionella bacteria in office buildings.

Spartan Bioscience is the developer of the Spartan Cube, a small, sleek box purportedly capable of collecting and analyzing DNA samples in 30 minutes. CEO Paul Lem has previously pitched the cube as a faster solution for DNA testing in doctors’ offices and hospitals, with eventual visions of the product offering convenient, at-home analysis.

The cube’s new commercialization offers a similar value in a different setting.

Legionella bacteria can infect and spread through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems of buildings, making those who live and work in these environments susceptible to a potentially-fatal form of pneumonia.

Current testing procedures are usually conducted monthly, with samples shipped to third-party labs with tests result returned in two weeks time – longer than it takes for a Legionella outbreak to spread, according to experts. The Spartan Cube can detect and quantify the same bacteria on-site in just 45 minutes, says the firm.

“On-site Legionella DNA testing is the first practical way to monitor and prevent Legionella outbreaks in buildings,” said Mr. Lem in a statement. He believes the improvements to be so substantial that the cube may be the first step towards eliminating Legionnaire’s Disease entirely.

The system is being tested with Public Services and Procurement through the Build in Canada Innovation Program, and has already won the 2018 AHR Expo Innovation Award for Indoor Air Quality.