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Hamamatsu backs Albuquerque startup working on optical DNA sequencing

19 Oct 2021

Armonica Technologies closes $2M round of financing to support feasibility demonstration of novel equipment.

Armonica Technologies, a 2015 spin-out from the University of New Mexico (UNM) developing a new approach to DNA sequencing based on optical technology, has closed a series B round of venture financing worth $2 million.

Supported by a new investor in the shape of Hamamatsu Photonics, the funding round is intended to support a feasibility demonstration of the equipment, which uses a combination of Raman spectroscopy and nanopores.

According to its latest filing with the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Armonica had been looking to raise $3 million. Joining Hamamatsu in the round were current investors Cottonwood Technology Fund, Sun Mountain Capital, and Tramway Venture Partners.

Label-free sequencing
Commenting on the investment, Hamamatsu’s CEO Akira Humira said: “At Hamamatsu, we are excited about our investment in Armonica, and their novel nanopore optical spectroscopy with its potential of new genetic sequencing methods to areas such as precision medicine.

“By investing in Armonica's technology we hope to speed the development of new and more effective treatments to some of the world's most devastating diseases.”

Armonica’s CEO Victor Esch added: “There continues to be an unmet clinical need for fast, high-throughput, long-read sequencing of native DNA, with an efficient workflow, that accurately identifies variants and epigenetics to enable clinical applications.

“We are very excited about the progress the company has made in key areas of our technology, including the measurement of single nucleotide spectra.”

According to the firm, its novel technology platform could overcome some key limitations of current approaches to genetic sequencing. For example, the use of convoluted nanopores is said to enable much faster translocation of nucleic acids.

Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) can then provide direct structural information about the sample under investigation, including identification of individual nucleotides without the need for molecular labels.

“Because our optical readout mechanism has massively parallel capabilities, the resultant output will provide high accuracy and fidelity, combined with a very high throughput,” Armonica believes.

SBIR grant via NIH
Founded by UNM emeritus professor Steve Brueck, the company was awarded a small business innovation research (SBIR) grant via the National Institute of Health’s National Human Genome Research Institute earlier this year.

Worth $350,000, that award runs for 12 months through February 2022, and is intended to help move Armonica’s demonstration work towards a full product.

A project abstract describes the Armonica platform as consisting of tiny channels around 100 nm in diameter, formed by self-assembly of colloidal nanoparticles, and known as “tortuous nanopores”.

Barriers placed across those channels and a metal-insulator-metal (MIM) field-enhancement structure allow single- or double-stranded DNA to be partially stretched into a linear configuration as it passes through.

Forced by an applied electric field to translocate through the tortuous nanopores, the MIM structure above the nanochannels enhances the electromagnetic fields of an incident laser, allowing label-free sequencing of individual bases that make up the DNA strand using the surface-enhanced coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (SECARS) technique.

Spectral DNA fingerprint
Commenting on the SBIR award last March, Brueck explained: “Long-read single-molecule sequencing that directly reads native DNA with epigenetic modifications, is considered the ideal solution for DNA sequencing research and clinical applications.

“Armonica’s unique technology is label- and amplification-free, and provides the exciting capability to read the optical spectra, or ‘spectral fingerprint’, of individual nucleotides, including any epigenetic modifications.”

If it can be translated into a commercial product, the proprietary platform promises to solve some of the long-standing challenges with traditional sequencing methodology - notably its speed and accuracy - thanks partly to optical reading of each base within the DNA sample.

“This unique approach to long-read sequencing will provide clinicians and researchers with a powerful tool that can detect previously unseen nuances and provide more accurate identification of genome variations and abnormalities,” stated Brueck.

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