Vegrandis LLC, a Fayetteville, Arkansas based technology company has received a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the National Science Foundation for $500,000 to develop technology to rapidly detect pathogens in the water supply. There is also the potential to receive an additional $500,000 in Phase IIb funding for a total of up to $1 million.
The SBIR Phase II award will fund development of an improved method for the detection of pathogens in the water supply and will initially focus on the detection of Cryptosporidium parvum. Gastrointestinal illness caused by C. parvum does not respond to common drug treatments. Furthermore, C. parvum is difficult to filter and resists typical water purification treatments. The massive outbreak experienced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993 that affected 403,000 individuals was judged to cost the community some $53 million in lost wages, lost productivity, medical bills and emergency room visits and $100 million in claims for loss of life.
The proposed instrument will increase the safety of water supplies by making frequent testing more affordable and by providing results much faster than currently available detection techniques. The rapid test results will allow water treatment processes to be adjusted before a widespread outbreak of gastrointestinal illness occurs if C. parvum is present.
Vegrandis was formed in April 2002 and its development is being supported by Virtual Incubation Company, LLC, a technology venture development firm. Vegrandis is a biotechnology company whose mission is to develop, build and sell bioassays, diagnostic instruments, microarrays and laboratories-on-a-chip for medical applications, drug discovery, environmental monitoring, and genetic and protein analysis applications.
Dr. Calvin Goforth, President of Virtual Incubation, says “Vegrandis is an exciting example of the significant recent progress of technology-based enterprises in Arkansas. The company has world-class technology that has allowed it to successfully contend for highly competitive SBIR funds and has multiple products under development including several that will compete in multi-billion dollar markets.” This is the sixth SBIR award that Vegrandis, LLC has received in the past two years.
“We are excited because of the possible impact of this project to society not only in this country but also in the rest of the world where approximately 5 million people, 80% of whom are children, die each year from diseases caused by water borne pathogens,” says Dr. Zoraida Aguilar. Dr. Aguilar, Sr. Scientist at Vegrandis, led the Phase I project work that successfully demonstrated the technology and showed the benefits compared to currently available approaches. Dr. Ingrid Fritsch, is the Chief Technology Officer of Vegrandis and is also an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Arkansas. Her research team at the University developed the patent pending technology that provided the basis for the current work being done in Vegrandis.