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Photo of ChipCare device.
Photo courtesy of ChipCare

Handheld Lab

U of T startup ChipCare gets set to unveil a revolutionary portable HIV blood-testing device

Imagine having blood drawn for HIV-related testing and then never finding out the results.

Research suggests that in many low-income and middle-income countries, up to half of patients don’t receive test results for treatable diseases such as HIV. Sometimes power outages prevent labs from using their equipment, or people in rural and developing areas can’t make the trip back to the lab, especially if it’s far or the roads are poor.

But what if the testing could be brought to them and performed on the spot?

This is the promise of “point-ofcare” testing, a fast-rising trend in the global health field. And ChipCare, a startup driven by unique U of T-developed technology, is poised to revolutionize this type of in-the-field diagnostic work.

James Dou (MASc 2007) and Stewart Aitchison, a professor in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, founded the global health venture in 2013 with Rakesh Nayyar (BSc 1989), an expert in biological testing. Soon after, they brought in James Fraser, formerly of Dignitas International, as CEO. “Everywhere you turn, not having access to diagnostics means lack of access to appropriate treatment,” says Fraser. “There is a humanitarian imperative behind this company.”

ChipCare’s device is about the size of a handheld grocery store scanner. It allows health-care providers to monitor levels of white blood cells called CD4 cells. HIV destroys CD4 cells, leaving patients vulnerable to infection. If the device indicates low numbers of these cells, health-care workers can administer antiretroviral drugs on the spot.

The company set up headquarters at U of T’s entrepreneurship hub, the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and received $2.6 million, one of the largest-ever angel investments for a Canadian health-care startup. Today, as the company readies its prototype for market, ChipCare has exceeded its latest funding goal of $5 million, which, says Fraser, will be used to pay for verification trials, clinical trials and sales and marketing. “The next step is to sell the device and save lives,” he says.

The company is also looking into a wide range of tests – for other sexually transmitted infections but also for neglected tropical diseases and prenatal care. “We’re focused on tests that could be very useful for clinical care and would directly save lives, or would provide insight into the epidemiology of a disease within a community.”

Support for ChipCare has been strong from the start, says Fraser. The company relied on U of T’s Innovations and Partnerships Office for help with the patent process. MaRS Innovation, which works in partnership with U of T, invested early and helped the team develop its patent portfolio and market knowledge. “U of T’s been a really good home. We’ve received a lot of support,” says Fraser.

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