March 16, 2021

UCalgary microbiologists develop platform for rapid infection diagnostics

Team to use UCeed funding to grow life-saving application that can be used to identify and test antibiotic susceptibility of disease-causing microbes
Ian Lewis, founder of Rapid Infection Diagnostics, and Thomas Rydzak, chief scientific officer of Rapid Infection Diagnostics
Ian Lewis, founder of Rapid Infection Diagnostics, and Thomas Rydzak, chief scientific officer

Thanks to funding from UCalgary’s UCeed initiative, what started as a late-stage academic project is now poised to become a real-world tool for swiftly diagnosing infections.

Rapid Infection Diagnostics (RID), an investee company founded at UCalgary in 2019, has developed Hopper, a metabolomics-based platform that can be used to identify and test the antibiotic susceptibility of disease-causing microbes. Metabolomics is the study of small molecules, known as metabolites, that are produced as the result of the metabolic activities of a micro-organism.

Hopper can drastically reduce the time it takes to identify a disease-causing organism in a sample. Instead of growing the bacteria and waiting for it to multiply, it can simply look at what the bacteria secretes, which is much more abundant.

“Bacteria eat and poop a lot more than they multiply,” says Dr. Thomas Rydzak, PhD, RID’s chief scientific officer and one of Hopper’s primary inventors.

Incubate, metabolize, identify, prescribe

Hopper incubates bacteria for four hours, allowing for metabolism to occur, and the scientists can then identify pathogens based on the metabolites present. The platform can also incubate the bacteria in the presence of antibiotics to see if metabolism stops or continues. This antibiotic-susceptibility test will allow for more accurate treatment of patients, as only antibiotics that effectively prevent the metabolism of the bacteria will be prescribed.

In a head-to-head comparison, Hopper’s results are available 30 hours faster than other diagnostic platforms that are currently in use, says RID founder Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences. RID estimates this faster diagnostic time could save 50,000 lives per year in North America and Europe.

“So many people are currently dying from bad technology,” says Lewis.

RID’s goal is for Hopper to become the primary diagnostic platform used in labs across North America and Europe. Lewis says it has recently taken a big step toward that goal, receiving a favourable evaluation on the patent in Europe.

“We’re on track to having this device implemented in a wide set of countries across the world,” says Lewis.

Huge range of applications possible

Beyond its current application of diagnosing urinary tract and bloodstream infections, RID anticipates a wide range of applications for Hopper. Lewis says there are many exciting opportunities for it in paediatric diagnostics, and RID is working with several paediatric groups interested in adapting the life-saving technology.

UCeed is a pre-seed and seed funding program that helps commercialize new technologies and accelerates UCalgary startup companies. 

Funding provided by the UCeed Health Opportunity Fund will help RID take the next step in taking Hopper from an idea to reality. It will help the company establish new health-care partners and allow RID to begin clinical trials on the platform starting this summer.

Lewis says the UCeed funding and continued support from UCalgary’s innovation ecosystem will contribute to RID's mission of enabling better health outcomes from infectious disease through rapid diagnostics.

Ian Lewis is an assistant professor and Alberta Innovates Translational Health Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary. He is also the principal investigator for the Lewis Research Group.

UCeed is a pre-seed and seed funding program that helps commercialize new technologies and accelerates startup companies in the areas of child and general health, the Haskayne Student Fund, and Social Impact. Learn more.

The University of Calgary’s multidisciplinary Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering research strategy drives solutions to our most pressing health challenges in disease and injury prevention, diagnosis, and treatments. Our biomedical engineering researchers make a significant impact in our communities by extending lives, improving quality of life, promoting independence, and continuously improving the health system.