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Houston engineering firm provides grant for COVID-19 antibodies testing kits

A Houston company is helping to fund the advancement of an antibody testing kit that could answer a lot of the questions surrounding COVID-19. Getty Images

A Houston-area engineering company that usually helps its energy clients with efficiency optimization has teamed up with a Michigan-based biotech company to advance important COVID-19 testing.

Sugar Land-based Assured Flow Solutions has partnered up with Innovative Research Inc. to aid its development of its ELISA-based test kit. The kit will be able to test to see if an individual carries antibodies against COVID-19. This test would help address the disease's many question marks as well as validate vaccine efficacy, identify donors for plasma transfusions, and more.

"The opportunity to assist in this work is personally fulfilling and further allows AFS to demonstrate our commitment to helping the community in any way possible," says Tony Spratt, AFS co-founder, in a news release.

AFS has granted funds to Innovative Research in support of the company's advancement of biotech.

"Before these kits can be used by researchers globally, they need to be tested and validated and that is where AFS has helped in our fight. The grant support from AFS will be used to purchase reagents to expedite in the rapid development and validation of these kits," says Donna Schelby, vice president of operations at Innovative Research Inc., in a news release.

"Without the generous support of AFS, we would not be as far along in the development phase as we are."

The two companies are connected through the University of Michigan, where executives from each firm attended.

"This is a unique and meaningful opportunity for a cross-over between our two innovative companies to work towards a common goal," says Tommy Golczynski, AFS CEO, in a news release. "Leaders at both companies have academic roots from the University of Michigan, so this was a very natural and impactful collaboration to help a community in-need."

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Building Houston

 
 

Asma Mirza joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain how a pandemic pivot turned into a global health opportunity. Photo courtesy

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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