New Vision for Diagnostics is Taking Flight


Aviana Molecular Technologies Solution Will Detect Illnesses Electronically for Quicker Treatment

A quick search for the word “Aviana” reveals its most common meaning: “Like a bird.” With an ability to swiftly work through Bluetooth wireless technology to deliver messages that could be lifesaving, that name has proved to be well-suited to Orlando- based company Aviana Molecular Technologies. The company is in the development stages of groundbreaking medical technology with an accessible point-of-care system that can diagnose illnesses quickly and efficiently.

Using small biological samples gathered via a disposable, credit card-size cartridge that operates much the same way as a blood glucose meter, Aviana’s sensors can test for and diagnose specific infections, as well as disease agents such as viruses and bacteria. The information is then translated to a reader that can be integrated into a smartphone or other device.

“A binding occurs on the cartridge that converts acoustic waves to electronic signal, which can be communicated through Bluetooth to the reusable Reader,” said Dr. Vanaja Ragavan, the company’s founder and president. “We are a platform technology, so we can adapt it for any number of illnesses. We are primarily interested in using our technology in areas of seriously unmet need where it can make a difference in providing proper therapy given in a timely fashion.”

One of the potential uses identified by the company is the detection of Lyme disease, which is typically conveyed through a tick bite and causes a bullseye-shaped mark, leading to flu-like symptoms and a rash. After the disappearance of the rash, the patient can be left with both short-term and long-term symptoms, which can vary in severity. If left undiagnosed and untreated for long enough, Lyme disease can lead to serious, debilitating joint pain, arthritis and sometimes neurological and cardiac signs. The company presented its research to an international conference on the disease in Atlanta in mid-September.

Ragavan was laying the groundwork for Aviana long before she could fully anticipate its effects. After attending Harvard University and the New York University School of Medicine, and a stint as a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she worked in several global pharmaceutical companies, developing her skills in both pharmaceuticals and the world of biotech. At the same time, she was sharpening her entrepreneurial instincts.

“I had started a company earlier in the 1990s, which was sold,” she said. “After the sale of the company, I joined an angel group in New York called Golden Seeds, which invests in women- owned and women-run companies. I was part of the life sciences investment group when I came across this acoustic-based technology and decided to start a company to develop this new concept.”

From Angels to Myth

From there, Aviana Molecular Technologies was born, and eventually the technology started to come to life as well. When Ragavan learned that some researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) were working with advanced acoustic technology, she moved her company to Orlando in 2016 to be close to the source.

“We call the device Pegasus — and we came up with the name long before we made a deal with UCF,” she said. “For us it symbolizes a winged, flying, mythical horse which is airborne, as is our technology.” The mythical namesake is the official logo, symbol and mascot of the university.

UCF professor Dr. Donald Malocha spent eight years developing sensors used on vehicles in extraterrestrial missions with the NASA space shuttle program, as well as a wireless mechanism for remote communication between the sensor and a reader.

“It was wireless, passive, robust,” Ragavan explained. “It was what we needed as our base technology, and from there we adapted it for biological sensing with major innovations.

“We are now located at the UCF incubator and are very grateful for all the support we have received in Florida,” Ragavan said. That includes investments from the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Publicly Funded Research. “It’s been a long journey, but now we are a Florida company and hope to highlight our presence and success here.”

Down-to-Earth

After members of the Aviana team were able to adapt the technology to be used for human diagnostics, it became clear that what they’re working toward has the power to revolutionize medical care. It can be used in not only the most up-to-date hospitals and doctors’ offices, Ragavan said, but in remote areas such as the rural town of Bethel, Alaska, where in 2014 The Atlantic magazine reported an average of 68 doctors per 100,000 people, versus the 84 in more urban cities.

Aviana’s cartridge and reader require just a small sample, can be integrated into smart devices to make them easy to carry, and can be used by anyone from a doctor to the patient for a quick and accurate diagnosis that can lead to a timely treatment plan.

Because of the wireless nature of the product and its connectivity with smart devices, the technology can even use location systems to identify places in the world where spikes of a particular infection or disease might be occurring. The product can also communicate with hospitals’ electronic medical records to ensure a patient’s history is accurate.

“Think about a test that might be needed in an area that’s hard to get to, and also at someone’s bedside or in an emergency room,” Ragavan said. “In many instances, it’s better to be diagnosed right away. Our technology is very sensitive and processes information quickly. Otherwise, the patient would have to wait for several hours or days.

“Eventually, we hope it can be used in many places. If there is an outbreak of a disease that can be spread by travel — think of the Ebola crisis — we can develop a product to make sure that a person who is getting onto a plane does not carry the disease, since we can test within minutes at any terminal.

“And think about sports injuries,” she added. “We can test for a major trauma at the time of injury, so the player can be properly treated. And we are investigating a method to diagnose antibiotic resistance within a couple of hours, rather than days, which can save a patient’s life.”

About the author

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham

Meaghan Branham is a writer and communications manager for i4 Business magazine. A Florida native who graduated from UCF with her BA in English literature in 2017, she looks forward to more opportunities to share the stories of those shaping Central Florida.

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