Spartan Bioscience wins IEEE award for DNA testing cube

Ottawa’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) announced this week that Spartan Bioscience is the winner of its 2016 Outstanding High Technology Company Recognition Award for the development of the Spartan Cube. IEEE called it “the world's smallest on-demand DNA-testing system, enabling unprecedented portability and convenience."

The cube – a sleek, palm sized box – can collect, extract and analyze DNA samples in just 30 minutes. The applications of the cube range from diagnosing strep throat to testing water for harmful bacteria.

Dr. Paul Lem, co-founder and CEO of Spartan Bioscience, told Techopia that he thinks IEEE saw potential for good in the cube.

“They’re looking for, ‘How do you apply technology that actually improves the world?’ And that’s why I think they were impressed with the Spartan Cube,” he says.

The aesthetic of the cube was a big part of the design, Lem says, contrasting the Apple-like product appearance to the big, beige machines common in hospitals and medical labs.

“You should see people’s reactions as they walk by,” he says of shopping the product to medical trade shows. “They do a double-take.”

While the cube is marketed today to pharmacies, doctor’s offices and hospitals, Lem has visions of the cube as a tool for at-home diagnostics. He imagines waking up late at night with his seven-year-old son complaining of a sore throat and doing a quick test with the Spartan Cube, saving the family an exhausting trip to the emergency room.

Currently, the Spartan Cube is used only in research capacities. The barrier for using any medical device for diagnostics is regulatory approval. In order for Health Canada to certify the cube for at-home use, Spartan needs to pass clinical trials to convince regulators that the cube meets industry standards. This process usually takes eight to 12 months.

Until the company hops over these hurdles, Lem says the Spartan Cube can be applied in industries such as veterinary diagnostics or water testing, where regulations aren’t so restrictive.

Spartan Bioscience has funding help in these endeavours from the pockets of strategic investor Canon. While primarily focused on camera and imaging technology, the Japanese multinational does have a healthcare technology arm. Lem says that Canon is selective with its investments, but that Spartan was one of two yearly investments the company usually makes.