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New method can pick up HIV earlier

29 April 2011

Martin Hedström talking to Kosin Teeparuksapun, who is testing one of CapSenze’s prototypes. Kosin T

The world’s toughest assessor of drugs and new analytical technique, the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA), has seen the potential of CapSenze, a small company from Lund that has a method to identify HIV in the blood at an early stage. Martin Hedström is a researcher in biotechnology and a part-owner of the company.

Dr Hedström is behind the newly developed technique to measure extremely low concentrations of poisons, viruses or other substances in liquids. In the autumn, the FDA will test and evaluate the method together with CapSenze.

“We have passed the first assessment, which means we have made it through the most difficult part. If they are happy with the test results, we will probably get final approval in two or three years’ time. In practice, approval from the FDA is a pre-requisite to gain access to the international market”, says Martin Hedström.

With today’s methods, it is possible to establish whether someone has HIV or not after a couple of months. However, the new technology from Lund makes it possible to pick up the disease after only two weeks. While current techniques mostly measure antibodies, CapSenze can measure extremely low levels of the virus marker protein p24, which is on the outside of the virus and is released into the bloodstream.

The analysis equipment will become sufficiently cheap that it can be bought by hospitals in developing countries.

“The idea is that our equipment, which at the moment is a prototype the size of a shoe box, is to be used in Africa, Asia and other poor areas where HIV and AIDS are widespread. If the disease can be diagnosed early, its spread can be minimised”, explains Martin Hedström, who has worked on developing the technique for the past decade.

The other part-owner of the company, who can also be described as its father, is Bo Mattiasson, Professor of Biotechnology at LTH (Faculty of Engineering). Over several years he has built biosensors of various kinds and he began sketching the idea for what would later form the basis for CapSenze 17 years ago.

In practice, the company is still a research project, It is also a sideline which Martin Hedström works on in his free time, when he is not carrying out other research or supervising doctoral students.

In 2010, CapSenze was highly commended in the innovation awards presented by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Lund Municipality and Lund University. For the past two years, Joakim Larsson has also been part of the company. It is largely thanks to his skills in electronics that CapSenze has become a commercial company.

CapSenze’s analysis method

The possibility to find viruses and other infectious substances in clinical diagnoses is one of several possible applications. This is no surprise for an analysis method that can find concentrations as low as a sugar cube dissolved in the Baltic Sea. Martin Hedström indicates a further three applications:

  • Bioterrorism: to monitor and trace poisons, for example in water towers.
  • Environmental pollution: for example, it is possible to find out easily and cheaply whether water in a well is polluted with cholera.
  • Safer pharmaceutical production: CapSenze’s technique could reduce the risk of bio-based pharmaceuticals causing undesired side-effects because of pollutants that may be present in low levels.

- Kristina Lindgärde