Earth-​​based startup gets a boost from space

By: news@Northeastern


Quad Technologies makes an easily dissolvable magnetic hydrogel for highly efficient biological separation, such as isolating adult stem cells from the blood. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Two weeks after being named a finalist in Mass­Chal­lenge, the world’s largest ven­ture accel­er­ator, North­eastern spinoff Quad Tech­nolo­gies has been selected to receive a $45,000 award from the Center for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence in Space as part of the accel­er­ator program’s “sidecar challenge.”

Quad Tech­nolo­gies was one of eight star­tups selected by CASIS through the Mass­Chal­lenge Startup Accel­er­ator at a cer­e­mony Wednesday evening to receive funding that will leverage their research on the Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tion U.S. National Laboratory.

“The CASIS prize pro­vides a unique oppor­tu­nity for Quad,” said Shashi Murthy, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of chem­ical engi­neering at North­eastern who is the startup’s co-​​founder and chief sci­en­tific adviser. “It will yield insights that will allow Quad to improve its pro­duc­tion process on earth as well as make some fun­da­mental con­tri­bu­tions to basic research.”

Quad Tech­nolo­gies spe­cial­izes in making a dis­solv­able, mag­netic hydrogel that can be used to iso­late bio­log­ical entities—like cells or proteins—from a sur­rounding matrix such as blood or tissue.

For example, so-​​called hematopoi­etic stem cells exist in the blood and could rev­o­lu­tionize the bio­log­ical engi­neering and health­care indus­tries by replacing con­tro­ver­sial embry­onic stem cells in a range of research appli­ca­tions. But they are cur­rently inac­ces­sible using stan­dard procedures.

“Quad is building a microbead plat­form for the sep­a­ra­tion of rare stem cells from bio­log­ical tis­sues,” said co-​​founder Brian Plouffe, who earned his master’s degree and doc­torate in chem­ical engi­neering from North­eastern. “We’re trying to iso­late these stem cells for appli­ca­tion in diag­nos­tics, tissue engi­neering, and regen­er­a­tive medicine.”

But making these microbeads is no easy task. The team is forming the beads using a drop-​​based tech­nique that is highly sus­cep­tible to the impacts of gravity. But because the hydrogel con­sists of a het­ero­ge­neous mix­ture of mag­netic nanopar­ti­cles, each one comes out a dif­ferent size.

By removing gravity from the equa­tion, Plouffe and his col­leagues hope to deter­mine the best pro­ce­dure for making uni­formly sized droplets, which would stream­line the microbead pro­duc­tion process.

CASIS was estab­lished as the main research arm of NASA in 2011 for car­rying out sci­ence in space and max­i­mizing the use of the Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tion through 2020. It is ded­i­cated to sup­porting and accel­er­ating inno­va­tions and new dis­cov­eries that will enhance the health and well­being of people and our planet.

The award will allow the Quad team to partner with the Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tion to study the effects of gravity on their process.

“They’re going to make beads in space, we’re going to make iden­tical beads on earth,” said Plouffe. “We’ll do a side-​​by-​​side com­par­ison to basi­cally decouple the gravity effects and in doing so we’ll be able to opti­mize our process and form design equa­tions for forming the beads.”

This is the first time droplet for­ma­tion will be studied in a micro­gravity envi­ron­ment. Thus, said Plouffe, the research stands to inform much more than just a better microbead for Quad.