Jessica Vermeer
14 April 2020

Midiagnostics recently received a 14 million euro investment to bring its chip-based diagnostics platform to the market. The technology from Leuven allows users to obtain rapid test results for acute, chronic and epidemic diseases, such as future pandemics.

“By making diagnostics easily available in airports and at border control, virus outbreaks such as the current corona pandemic can be prevented in the earliest stage, which is especially helpful if carriers aren’t showing symptoms,” explains Midiagnostics CEO Nicolas Vergauwe. “If you want to detect a sudden rise early on, you need proper technology that can be used outside classical laboratory settings. We’re fighting fires, where we should have installed smoke alarms.”

Leuven-based Midiagnostics is developing such a smoke alarm: a chip-based diagnostics platform that allows users to obtain rapid test results for acute, chronic and epidemic diseases, such as future pandemics. It recently received a 14 million euro investment to bring its solution to the market. The primary new investors are Rudi Pauwels, Belgian pharmacologist, serial entrepreneur and the company’s chairman, and Urbain Vandeurzen, one of Belgium’s leading business entrepreneurs and chairman of VMF Invest.

Diagnosis on a chip

The main goal of Midiagnostics is to make diagnostic information as readily available as news articles on your smartphones. Currently, diagnostics requires large facilities to execute sampling and tests. The Leuven outfit has miniaturized this to the microchip level, executing all the steps sequentially by inventive usage of the capillary effect: the chip has a very precise geometry of tiny canals, which manipulates the fluids to move in a specific way. The resulting nanofluidic processor, as Midiagnostics calls it, is embedded in a test card, which is about the size of a credit card. The compact reading system, a cube measuring 10 cm on all sides, can measure virtually any biomarker in an easily accessible sample.

The device allows for analysis of different sample types, with drops of blood being the most common. From these samples, it can detect several types of biological particles. Depending on the target molecule, the reader is equipped with a simple optical module consisting of a light source and a camera chip, which is used to detect cells, proteins and small molecules. Nucleic acids are detected directly on the chip using an electrical readout that’s fully compatible with the optical method, allowing for the development of a single reader.

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The biggest advantage of the Midiagnostics solution is the elimination of sample preparation, which is a complicated, time-consuming process. Vergauwe compares his company’s chip technology to a line of dominos. “You just give the initial push by loading the sample and all steps will automatically follow.”

Midiagnostics is a spinoff of Johns Hopkins University and Imec. It was founded in 2015 as a private company based in Leuven. At that time, it was still exploring the capabilities of its silicon chip technology. “Too early for Urbain Vandeurzen to invest,” says Vergauwe. “Now, we’re ready to enter the development phase for mass production.” He emphasizes R&D will still play an important role within the company, but the initial invention is ready for the next step.

Early outbreak detection

Meanwhile, even though the coronavirus outbreak cannot be prevented anymore, test capacity remains relevant. “The current test paradigm relies on central laboratory testing. The big disadvantage is that early detection isn’t straightforward. As a consequence, you’ll start doing massive testing when it’s actually too late. Using our technology at places that allow for early detection, like airports, enables us to detect the metaphorical smoke when another house catches on fire.”