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What if there was a way to test tuberculosis with one breath of air? That is the technology NanoSynth, a spinout company from the University of Utah, has developed.

Manoranjan Misra, president and co-founder of NanoSynth, originally discovered this technology ten years ago while working as a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. When Swomitra Mohanty, chief technology officer and co-founder of NanoSynth, heard about it and recognized its potential as a diagnostic tool for diseases such as tuberculosis. The bacteria from this infectious disease releases volatile biomarkers that allow sensors to pick up the scent. While Misra initially intended for the technology to be an explosives detector, it can identify a variety of airborne chemicals.

“I saw Misra’s paper on explosive sensors and I said to him, you know, we can probably use this for tuberculosis…When we got to Utah we developed the idea in our lab. We did some practices, got some funding and now are testing it on patients,” Mohanty said.

NanoSynth began in 2011 and took off after receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation. They have since received further funding from NSF as well as NIH and TCIP grants. USTAR provided the labs, equipment and funding for primary research as NanoSynth was just starting.

“Most of the initial work was done with the help of USTAR,” Mohanty said. “USTAR made a significant contribution to help us get this idea, this tuberculosis breath sensor, off the ground. They got us to a point where we had results and could go after federal funding.”

Founders Misra and Mohanty took NanoSynth’s first years to build relationships with countries like Uganda and India, where tuberculosis is prevalent. The breath sensors are currently undergoing clinical trials in these countries.

Screening tuberculosis today can take weeks or months, but NanoSynth’s unique technology diagnoses in minutes. The magic all happens in a small square of titanium dioxide, which detects chemicals and, after a number of algorithms are performed, can confirm or deny if a person has tuberculosis.

NanoSynth is not only looking to tuberculosis testing, though. They currently have a prototype of a water filtration system that can remove bacteria from one liter of water in a minute.

“We are taking one material and applying it to ten or more different applications,” Misra said. “You have the same material with different combinations.”

Like most of the products Misra hopes to spin out, the tuberculosis breath sensor is inexpensive, non-invasive and beneficial to a wide variety of people. There are an estimated 9 million cases of Tuberculosis each year worldwide. The simplicity of the technology will allow both the breath sensor and water purifier to be used in foreign countries where it is most needed.

The company is based out of the University of Utah, where both Misra and Mohanty work as professors in the department of metallurgical and chemical engineering. With a team of students and teachers, NanoSynth creates all their products on site. As the company grows, it will become a high-tech company feeding the Utah economy and providing jobs for engineers.

From a simple idea to an international company, Misra and Mohanty are excited to see their dream become a reality. Misra believes that the ultimate goal of all research is to improve or help society, and with one piece of titanium at a time, he is.

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