Joining a panel of three pioneering entrepreneurs, Dhaval Patel, PhD, Director of Research & Innovation at Texas-based NemaLife Inc. will attend the event to showcase his techbio platform company.
The company provides a patented, rapid, high-throughput in-vivo screening platform using the tractable microscopic worm C. elegans.
He explains that this is particularly useful for the gut health space as compared to existing approaches, such as in-vitro “mechanical-intestine” models and ex-vivo organ-on-chip models, the gut of the worm is a true “living intestine,” harbouring a functionally diverse microbiome similar to that of humans.
"Artificial intelligence is already allowing us to sort through huge numbers of molecules or microorganisms in the search of novel ingredients, but once you have candidates, you still need to test them in living creatures," explains Patel. "Layered onto that is the push from regulators in some parts of the world, and consumers, to find alternatives to mammalian testing."
While the C. elegans worms are one of the earliest lifeforms on the planet, there’s a lot of biology that’s conserved from the worm all the way up to humans meaning the platform can provide human health-relevant endpoints focused on gut health, muscle health, anti-obesity, cognitive health, stress resistance, and anti-aging.
NemaLife’s system allows the worms to remain in one place while their diet and the environment is changes in situ, providing excellent scalability.
Nemalife automated assays based on the gold standard biological model C. elegans.
C. elegans is a free-living organism found in soil. It is easy to culture this organism on agar plates (10,000 worms/plate); it feeds on Escherichia coli (another long-term resident of biological laboratories worldwide). Therefore, it can be readily grown and maintained in a laboratory. The biggest asset of this nematode is its transparency, which helps researchers to observe and monitor changes within the animal with ease. It is also a simple organism with fewer than 1,000 cells and a genome of 20,000 genes.
Another asset is the short life cycle of this worm (Figure 1). It takes only 3 days to achieve the “egg to adult to daughter egg;” therefore, tracking genetic changes is easier in this animal. The total life span of C. elegans is 2 to 3 weeks; hence, age-related phenomena are easy to observe.
NemaLife has been chosen as one of three Probiota Pioneers and so will join the event in Barcelona, 6-8 February.
Patel says he looks forward to building his connections with the microbiome industry.
“Everyone has told us that the Probiota events are critical event in the microbiome space. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of the people we have been talking to in this industry.
“I’m also excited to meet other startups because we provide cost effective research solutions which are perfect for those working to smaller budgets.”
Preclinical probiotic testing
The company, which launched in 2020, recently joined the International Probiotics Association and is working with the organisation to “create a new industry standard in preclinical probiotic testing”.
“The microbiome space has taken a giant leap forward in the last 20 years,” explained Dr Patel. “We’ve realized how much the microbiome impacts human health, but one of the things we’re really not able to do right now is to understand which specific bacteria are having the most beneficial effect because the microbiome in my gut or your gut probably numbers 7-10,000 individual species and actually knowing which ones are truly having a beneficial effect is really challenging.
“So, what we’re trying to do is use this platform to basically help people characterize the actual impact of each one of those species and that allows companies to work out which species are going to be most impactful for their product.
“Joining the IPA has been instrumental in introducing us to people in the industry which is important for us to understand who can benefit from our platform.”
Low-volume ingredient testing
Speaking to NutraIngredients at SupplySide West last year, Patel said: “The premise of our chip is basically trying to minimize the amount of sample that you need to give an organism during testing. A lot of companies here [at SupplySide West] are doing a lot of early-stage R&D and they don’t have a lot of material at that stage, but they need to know what the functional benefit of that nutraceutical or probiotic is. Because if you know what that functional benefit is, you can then justify putting in the money to scale up manufacture and then doing that more intensive testing that comes with getting that product ready for market.”
NemaLife’s platform is able to take that ultra-low volumes of that material and look at several different read outs, including health and lifespan, he said.
“Other things we can look at are weight management compounds: Are the worms gaining obesity on a high sugar diet? Can that material make them skinnier? We can look at things for cognitive health, muscle health, reproductive health. The worm is very powerful for getting a lot of insight into a lot of things that we care about.”
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