They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but they can also be a cancer researcher’s best friend – and contrary to popular belief, the smaller the better. One of the biggest challenges researchers face today is detecting cancer cells before the metastasis period (the time when the cancer cells multiply and spread into other regions).
Conventional imaging solutions are often not effective for early discovery of small tumors and precursors to micrometastic tumors due to issues with signal loss, toxicity or poor image clarity due to color contrasts and visual background debris. To overcome these issues, Bikanta, a startup founded out of Newark, California in 2013 is leveraging the properties of nanodiamonds made from microscopic diamond dust. By exploiting defects in the dust, the particles are able to emit a fluorescent light when it absorbs radiation.
In the case of the Bikanta nanodiamonds, the diamond dust is specifically engineered for medical treatment. During the manufacturing process the diamonds are bombarded with radiation to remove a single carbon molecule from each diamond. The diamonds are then baked so that left over carbon molecules move closer to a nitrogen particle in order to emit a different color.
Dr. Ambika Bumb, founder of Bikanta describes the nanodiamonds as being like a flashlight in the body which never burns out; the fluorescent signal emitted by the molecules are designed to last indefinitely in order for doctors to monitor the movement of cells.
Rather than using standard diamonds for their technology, Bikanta has worked with the National Institutes of Health to develop a special coating that makes the structures easier to manipulate. With the coating, the nanodiamonds can be customized to bind to virtually any type of cell within the body, including antibodies, polymers, DNA, fab fragments, biotin, aptamer, and streftavdin.
In addition to the nanodiamonds, Bikanta is also developing a line of imaging scanners and microscopes to improve detection capabilities. So far the technology has been proven to reduce background noise by more than 100-fold over existing methods.
This has laid the groundwork for the technology to be used in early metastatic node detection. In the future it is possible that medications will use Bikanta’s technology to target and treat illnesses and defects found in the system.
To date Bikanta has raised $120k in a seed round from four investors including Y Combinator and Queensbridge Venture Partners (with which rapper Nas is a partner). They have also won multiple awards including Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit 2014 award, BayBio’s FAST Award, and most recently The Orloff Award (the first Technical Orloff). The founding team includes five Ph.D.s with decades of experience in medicine, engineering, and business from schools such as Oxford University, Harvard, Stanford, and Brown.
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