While viewing an exhibit of Monet’s impressionistic paintings, Jim Posillico, Ph.D., president and CEO at Molecular Biometrics
in Chester, NJ, noted the similarity of the art with his company’s metabolomics platform.
Like the discrete brush strokes, textures, and colors that interact to form an impressionistic image, “metabolomics looks at the bigger picture from its constituent parts,” Dr. Posillico explains. The individual pieces of information in metabolomics are molecular biomarkers in biological samples, which give an accurate diagnostic profile of a biological condition or state of cellular activity.
The technology platform at Molecular Biometrics combines metabolomics with near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy. The company’s lead product, ViaTest-E™, tests the viability of embryos at in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics to increase the chance for a successful pregnancy. The test uses NIR spectroscopy to detect biomarkers of oxidative metabolism that strongly correlate with embryo viability.
The groundwork for the company’s biospectroscopy-based metabolomics platform was done in the laboratory of chemist David Burns, Ph.D., at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. Dr. Burns and Dr. Posillico, an endocrinologist, cofounded Molecular Biometrics in 2005 and licensed five broad patents from McGill University, which cover applications of metabolomics and different forms of spectroscopy to different medical conditions including fetal development and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The company invented a prototype instrument, about the size of a toaster, for use at IVF clinics. After confirming that NIR is as sensitive as NMR or Raman spectroscopy for identifying and quantifying biomarkers, the company selected NIR because it is affordable and does not require much technical know-how to operate, reports Dr. Posillico.
The NIR instrument produces a metabolomic profile of the target biomarkers in a biological specimen. For IVF, the analysis requires just seven microliters of the sample media bathing the embryonic cells and gives results in about one minute, according to Dr. Posillico. The test is entirely noninvasive, and embryos are never harmed.
The instrument has no moving parts, other than a cooling fan and light bulb that needs periodic replacement. A technician loads a sample into a disposable sample cell, places it in the instrument, and presses a button. The results are displayed as a numerical viability score based on calculations using proprietary algorithms. The test can be readily incorporated into the IVF procedure, reports Dr. Posillico.
The method is intended to work in conjunction with subjective microscopic morphological assessments, which due to poor predictive value, require the implantation of three to five embryos to improve the odds of pregnancy. This practice of multiple embryo transfer, however, raises the risk for multiple births as well as increasing healthcare costs. “The high incidence of multiple gestations is the black cloud hanging over the field of IVF,” says Dr. Posillico. To make IVF even more successful, the NIR technology is being extended to the assessment of viable oocytes and semen prior to fertilization, he reports.