Nicolleten on the way to revolutionize diagnostic testing
Sciences et technologies

Nicolleten on the way to revolutionize diagnostic testing

NICOLET. What if it were possible to detect in minutes the presence of harmful bacteria in a living being, in water, in food, and anywhere else where they could cause health problems? This is precisely the challenge that Nicoletin Jérémie Guilbert is solving with his Quebec business partner Louis-Philippe Dallaire as part of DéteXion.

Two physics PhD students are developing sensors that will make diagnostic tests easier to access for all professionals. “Our ultimate goal is to offer a kind of rapid test catalogue, a bit like the COVID-19 tests, for a wide range of sectors,” sums up Jérémie Guilbert. Because pathogens (bacteria, viruses) are everywhere: “In human medicine, in the agri-food industry, in animal health, in water safety…”, he gives as examples. “We want to have applications in all these areas.”

Apparently, the duo plans to do this step by step. “The first industry we want to help with our sensors is veterinary medicine. This will be a good testing ground for our technology before medicine,” says Mr. Gilbert.

The prototype, which will be ready around autumn 2024, will therefore be able to detect infections in dairy cows. “Dairy cows often develop udder infections that affect milk production, such as mastitis. But right now you can’t know the cause of the infection for 2-3 days or even longer until you get the lab results, just like in the health industry.”

Jérémie Guilbert explains that the situation is problematic on two levels. Firstly, because the veterinarian often carries out blind treatment, trying to quickly alleviate the animal’s condition while waiting for the results, which in the long term can contribute to the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance. Then, given the time constraints and the inconvenient procedure, many simply choose not to test.

“However, we know that additional testing is one of the best ways to better control disease on farms and therefore increase milk production. With our technology, we want to enable veterinarians to carry out more testing on dairy farms, ultimately resulting in healthier cows and more profitable farms.”

The DéteXion technology, which the duo has been working on since autumn 2021, is easy to use. It consists of a reader into which a professional inserts a cartridge equipped with microsensors invisible to the naked eye, containing the sample to be tested (such as cow’s milk). He then starts the analysis with a simple press of a button. In 15 to 30 minutes, he will receive the result.

“Our microsensors are fluorescent, meaning they glow and emit light. When bacteria bind to them, changes occur. The equipment we developed (an optical and electronic system) measures the light emitted by our microsensors. Then, using a data analysis method patented by Laval University, we can determine which bacteria are bound to our microsensors,” explains Mr. Gilbert.

Louis-Philippe Dallaire worked on developing this data analysis method as part of his research at Laval University. He joined forces with Jérémie Guilbert in 2021 with the goal of making it available to as many people as possible through DéteXion. “I think it’s really important that scientists themselves try to implement their technologies in field research, adapt them to the real world, and make them useful to society,” says Jérémie Guilbert.

Since 2021, the research has continued, with the duo gradually developing the design of the equipment and all the know-how associated with it. The DéteXion co-founders are now at the very end of the prototype phase of their system and are negotiating a worldwide patent license with Laval University.

They plan to have their prototype operational by October, when they plan to conduct the first demonstrations (tests on milk). They will then set up pilot projects, in particular on farms in Centre-du-Québec, in partnership with veterinary clinics. It is the latter that will use the technology in the field to check whether it works well.

If the pilot projects are successful, the first version of DéteXion technology could be commercialized in 2026.

Jérémie Guilbert and Louis-Philippe Dallaire are very confident in their technology. Moreover, it seems that the wind is blowing at their backs, as they see the speed at which their business is growing. “A year ago, there were only two of us in the team. Today, there are seven of us!” Mr. Guilbert rejoices.

It remains to be seen whether professionals will embrace the tool that DéteXion will offer. “This is our biggest challenge, but we think we are on the right track,” concludes Jérémie Guilbert.

If all goes well, the next step after animal agriculture will be to try to take its place in the field of human health.

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