NIH awards grant to Biolog to aid biodefense researchers

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded Biolog Inc. $923,000 to help it develop a next-generation version of the firm's cell array technology. The grant was awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

CEO Barry Bochner told BioArray News last week that Biolog will use the funds to continue adapting its Phenotype Microarray platform to study Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other fastidious pathogens, expand its Microbial Identification System to cover more fastidious species, and work with researchers at Texas A&M University to study gene function in Mycobacterium.

Biolog's Phenotype Microarray platform is currently used to study the physiological and metabolic properties of a wide range of microbial cells, according to the grant abstract. Using the PM platform, researchers can scan nearly 2,000 phenotypes of a microbial cell line in a single experiment.

As Biolog's projects are focused on pathogens that affect human health, the company envisions that the projects will also aid researchers who are involved in biodefense-related projects.

"Some of the biodefense-related bacteria are difficult to culture and researchers would like to understand the properties of these cells in more detail," Bochner said. "Our customers would like to be able to understand how key genes involved in pathogenicity affect a cell. There's a substantial segment of users of our technology that get funded through biodefense initiatives, either from the NIH or the US Department of Defense."

However, a number of fastidious genera are currently not amenable to PM analysis because they are difficult to culture. Biolog intends to enhance its PM technology to study agents of lung, cutaneous and tissue infections such as Mycobacterium, Nocardia and Legionella; microaerophilic gastrointestinal pathogens, including Helicobacter, Campylobacter, and Wolinella; and colonizers of the colon and vagina, such as Bacteroides, Clostridium and Escherichia, according to the abstract.

"Part of this has to do with our customer base doing basic research to understand the properties of bacteria that grow on and in the human body," Bochner said of the project. According to Bochner, the new work is being funded to assist the NIH's Human Microbiome Project, part of its Roadmap for Medical Research that funds various studies to determine how microbial cells impact human health.

"The NIH has recognized the importance of understanding the basic biology of these microorganisms and their interaction with the human host," he said. "Biolog technology is being funded in recognition of the utility of our PM testing platform."

Bochner said Biolog's goal is to get a working prototype developed within the first year of the grant. In terms of price, Bochner added that Phenotype Microarrays currently cost anywhere from between $25 and $500, depending on the array. Biolog hopes to cut the cost of its arrays in half by developing the next-generation platform

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