Area of Advance Nano project gets million Euro grant for developing new diagnostic methods

The research project “Genomic diagnostics beyond the sequence” (BeyondSeq) has been granted 6 million Euro by the European Union. Fredrik Westerlund, assistant professor recruited by the Chalmers Area of Advance Nano, is one of the key partners of the project, that was, together with eight other projects chosen among approximately 450 applications, to get a grant within the EU Horizon 2020 program “Development of new diagnostic tools and technologies: in vitro devices, assays and platforms”.

- For me and my team this is fantastic, says Fredrik Westerlund. We get around 8 million SEK and I have already been able to employ a doctoral student and plan to recruit one or two more persons. We will also buy a second microscope that will enable us to work twice as fast as today.

BeyondSeq is a collaboration between 6 international research teams, two in Israel, two in Sweden (Chalmers and Lund), one in Belgium and one in England, and the French company Genomic Vision. Fredrik Westerlund believes that the strategy to work together was a key to being successful in getting the grant.

- It all started when I met Professor Yuval Ebenstein from Tel Aviv University at the “DNA in Nanotechnology” conference in Chalmers 2013 where we decided to try to get funding together. Our first thought was: who would we compete against? - then we invited them to take part. We thought that if the European groups doing related work went together without having to compete with each other, we would get interesting synergies - and I think that was a winner!

The ground-breaking goal of the project, as described in the application, is to establish a set of diagnostic assays that will bridge the gap between cytogenetics and next-generation sequencing (NGS), via genetic and epigenetic profiling of native chromosomal DNA on the single DNA molecule level. Fredrik Westerlund’s part has to do with antibiotic resistance and finding a method that can diagnose resistance to specific antibiotics without having to cultivate bacteria. This would make the process of diagnosis much quicker and enable a reduction of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

- If you are really sick it is a large benefit to get an answer within a couple of hours rather than in a few days. On a larger scale you can also limit the development of antibiotic resistance that is becoming a rapidly increasing problem in society. When you give bacteria antibiotics they develop resistance continuously, so if the doctors can say right away that it is not any point to give a person a certain antibiotic you can drastically reduce the total amount of broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed.

Fredrik Westerlund got one of the two the position as assistant professor in the Area of Advance Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in 2010, when the Area of Advance had just started. During the first years he and the doctoral student Lena Nyberg came up with the method they are now developing to use for diagnosing antibiotic resistance.

- The Area of Advance Nano has been invaluable for us. It has given both me and Lena our salaries for four years and now our work has secured financing from EU for another four years.

The first step now will be to demonstrate that the method works on non-cultivated bacteria and then to test it on real patient samples. The goal at the end of the project is to produce a device that can be commercialized and used by doctors at the hospitals. 

- The most exciting part of the project, for me, is that the doctors I work with at Sahlgrenska are so excited about what we do - the fact that the method has the potential to really help people in the future is very intriguing to me.

Text and photo: Karin Weijdegård

Published: Fri 22 May 2015. Modified: Thu 28 May 2015