Someday, Joe Hernandez says, doctors will be able to carry a small device in the emergency room to detect infectious agents instantly, eliminating the need for elaborate and time-consuming lab tests.
Innovative Biosensors Inc., of College Park, has set out to develop and market such a device, using biosensors that are drawn from the human immune system, then manipulated to detect certain types of bacteria, viruses and proteins. Hernandez, the company's founder and chief executive, said the technology will be able to find traces of pathogens such as anthrax or E. coli, depending on the reagent inserted in the device, which will resemble a handheld computer.
He said it will be more accurate than technology available now, especially in spotting respiratory viruses and contagious bacteria.
Among advances so far, Innovative Biosensors has engineered a cell carrying a bioluminescent protein that emits light when a specific pathogen is targeted. "It glows, much like a jellyfish underwater" or a firefly, Hernandez said.
The Cuban-born son of a dissident imprisoned by Fidel Castro's regime, Hernandez, 31, came to the United States at age 6. He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and graduate degrees in molecular genetics and business administration.
Hernandez started his career at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. in sales and marketing. He was recruited by a company in Silicon Valley then called Affymetrix Inc., which worked on putting human genome data on a computer chip. Digene Corp. of Gaithersburg, which develops tests for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections, hired him to manage its life sciences and new technology program. Seeking more control of his career, he started Innovative Biosensors in October 2003.
Hernandez negotiated a licensing agreement from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had developed the biosensor technology. The technology had its genesis with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Department's research and development arm.
Innovative Biosensors intends to launch a commercial product for the food-testing industry by the end of the year, Hernandez said. But he said use of the device in health care will be a lengthier process, requiring clinical testing and approval by the Food and Drug Administration.