Cellanyx tries crowdfunding a better way to screen for prostate cancer

Even before the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommended against regular PSA testing for healthy men, the market for prostate cancer diagnostics was bustling.

An estimated 2.5 million men are living with prostate cancer, but only 25 percent to 35 percent of men who have a biopsy due to an elevated PSA level actually turn out to have cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. And some forms of the cancer are so slow-growing that treatment would be worse than the disease itself. That’s why companies have been hard at work developing ways to improve the diagnostic and prognostic value of prostate cancer testing by looking for biomarkers in the blood, analyzing biopsies for genes and autoimmune signals, and using sensors to detect DNA indicators in urine for starters.

Cellanyx Diagnostics is combining a few different methods to create a new, quantitative tool that would predict the aggressiveness and metastatic potential of a tumor to help doctors make more informed treatment decisions.


The startup is based on doctoral thesis work of Ashok Chander, a Columbia University graduate. Its platform technology is the foundation of what it thinks would be a lab service leveraging matrix biology, biomarkers, lab-on-a-chip technology and predictive analytics.

“Cellanyx has designed a microfluidic device that allows for dissociating, sorting and culturing of biopsy tissue,” Chander said in an email. “Its proprietary extracellular matrix formulation allows for increased adhesion and growth of cells derived from primary tissue.”

This video puts it a little more clearly:

The technology has been validated in human epithelial tumor lines and in human tumors derived from mouse models of metastasis, he said. “In addition to differentiating between cancer and non-cancer cell lines, Cellanyx’s technology can differentiate between different types of cancer cells like skin, lung, breast, colon and prostate.”

Cellanyx said the initial primary candidates for its test would be low- to moderate-risk men — thousands of who receive aggressive but unnecessary intervention each year.

To help fund an initial validation study using frozen, banked prostate tissue biopsies, the startup has turned to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. It’s looking to raise $13,500 in donations to complement a round of financing from angel investors, Chander said. “We hope that crowdfunding along the way will keep the public engaged and excited about our developments.”

The Boston-area startup is a long way from its crowdfunding goal, but Cellanyx has had recent successes elsewhere. It won the 2012 Columbia Engineering Venture Competition, reached the semifinals at MIT’s 100K competition and was a Silver Winner at the 2012 Mass Challenge Awards. Now it’s working with the nonprofit accelerator North Shore InnoVentures to develop and validate the technology. Collaborators thus far include Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Mass General Hospital and Tufts University Hospital.

[Photo from Flickr user Unlisted Sightings]

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