The app, CFU Scope, was released by Medixgraph three weeks ago, and Kai Yang, one of the company’s founders, told NutraIngredients “to our surprise it got a lot of downloads and attention in the past three weeks”.
The app allows users to prepare the culture and then image the plate using a smartphone and the CFU Scope app. The app then uses a proprietary computer vision algorithm to extract the colonies.
“The app works best if the image has a clear background. Simply put the plate on a table and the image usually works great,” said Yang.
Superior to software
The concept of using software to conduct plate counts is not a new one however, according to Yang, it requires a more complicated work flow involving taking a picture via web cam, transferring the image to PC and opening the software.
“Our usage flow is much more straightforward. Also, our analysis algorithm is much more accurate and we consistently enhance our analysis engine; users can easily get the latest version by updating the app,” he said.
Medixgraph’s app could be a game-changer for companies and laboratories which opt to count manually because of the lack of viable and cost effective automated alternatives.
“Believe it or not, most researchers still count CFUs manually. We have learned that by working with several companies and research labs here. Manual counting is a tedious process and not very accurate. There are a couple of expensive equipment options that can help to do counting, but they are not popular because of the price tag and the space they occupy in the lab,” explained Yang.
Swedish bio-tech company Probi, maker of the LP299V strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, agreed that the app “seems like a very convenient tool”.
“CFU counts are very important in our world, because they are how we gauge the potency of the product we are selling. If we can show we have an accurate and stringent method that can be transfered to customers and sub-contractors, that is exactly what we want,” said Probi’s vice president of operations, Linda Neckmar, who reviewed the app for NutraIngredients.
Probi uses a combination of manual counting and automatic plate counting, but Neckmar said she could see the potential benefits of the CFU Scope app as an alternative.
“The main benefit is that it eliminates the need to buy expensive equipment. I do not know the exact price of a plate counter today but my guess is it is more expensive than an app,” she said.
“From a technical point of view it makes sense - smartphones have good cameras and the software is similar to that in the plate counter,” she said.
Validation and security to consider
However, for a company like Probi, it is not as easy as downloading the app today and using it tomorrow.
“We are a certified lab, so any new methods that are introduced need to go through a number of steps to be added to the certification. Any new method has to go through a lengthy validation process to confirm its consistency and accuracy,” explained Neckmar.
She also pointed out that “security and ownership of data” would need to be considered.
Yang said the algorithm had been validated on hundreds of different colonies/plates, and that Medixgraph had worked wih several biological companies to validate the results.
Expanding on who these companies were, Yang said: “Currently we are working closely with several bio start-ups at Bay Area. They are mainly working on bacterial colonies, E.coli and S aureus for drug development, but there is no reason why our tool cannot be used in probotic applications. We are looking forward to working with different biological industries.”
The app currently only supports iOS devices but Medixgraph is working on an Android version.
Medixgraph was founded earlier this year by Jack Yao and Kai Yang, who between them have over 40 years of software expertise, particularly in electronic design automation and analyses, and mobile/cloud based applications development.
This is the fifth venture for the serial entrepreneurs, who have previously founded four companies in the electronic design automation and medical areas, and have two successful acquisition exits under their belts.
Yang said the focus of Medixgraph was expanding this expertise into biological and medical analysis to provide automation and analysis solutions. Besides enhancing the CFU Scope app, the company is currently working on several pipeline products.
As for roll-out of the app, Yang seems fairly relaxed, saying “we’re just based on the viral effect of Facebook for now…”