Owlstone, the Cambridge nanotech innovator that has developed a complete chemical detection system on a chip is again in elite company in the US this month at ISIMS 2012 in Florida.Dr Ashley Wilks, the company’s US-based business development officer for technology, will be presenting at the 21st Annual Conference of the International Society for Ion Mobility Spectrometry near Orlando. His field of specialism for the event will be ‘Optimizing Ion Separator Design For DMS/FAIMS At Ultra High Fields.’ His address is being given at the Walt Disney World Boardwalk Inn Conference Center in session 2 on Tuesday, July 24.
Dr Wilks joined Owlstone as chief systems officer in May 2005 and soon adopted a lead role in military and homeland security-focused development programs. In April 2011 he relocated from Cambridge UK to Owlstone’s US headquarters in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he now drives technology specific business development across all sectors.
Prior to Owlstone, Dr Wilks worked in chemical detection R & D for Smiths Detection, the world’s leading provider of X-ray and trace detection equipment. He has 15 years of experience in the development of analytical instrumentation/methodology, across wide-ranging deployment arenas, including forensics, environmental & biochem/pharma as well as defence & security.
Owlstone was born when three bright young Cambridge University students – Billy Boyle, Andrew Koehl and David Ruiz-Alonso – abandoned their PhDs to follow their dream. The company’s Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometer (FAIMS) has the ability to rapidly monitor a broad range of chemicals at very low quantities with high confidence.
By significantly reducing the cost and complexity of building devices to detect specific chemical agents, Owlstone has opened up an exciting new world of chemical sensing applications across a broad range of applications from environmental to security.
As Business Weekly reported earlier this year, Owlstone Nanotech is closing in on its long-held vision to exploit the medical diagnostics market with a breathalyser that detects disease. Survival could be on everyone’s lips if the Owlstone disease detector gains the approval its founders believe it deserves.
MedTech was on the radar from Day One for UK based Owlstone, whose founders suspended their Cambridge PhDs to develop a complete chemical detection system on a dime-size chip.
When a human being exhales, their breath contains more than 4,000 distinct chemical compounds. Many of these compounds serve as sensitive indicators of an individual’s overall wellbeing. More specifically, the presence of individual chemicals in a subject’s breath can play a vital role in the non-invasive diagnosis of disease. For instance, diabetes is a rapidly rising problem in the developed world, with long-term treatment for millions of sufferers placing a growing burden on stretched healthcare resources.
Glucose levels are currently measured by the patient using a painful, inconvenient pin-prick blood test. Owlstone detector technology potentially offers a compact, painless alternative, enabling rapid, non-invasive measurement of acetone levels in exhaled breath that are directly related to blood sugar levels. The presence of ‘signature’ chemicals also has the potential to aid the detection of a wide range of other conditions, from asthma and allergies to organ failures and certain types of cancer.
The Owlstone detector opens up exciting new possibilities for clinicians to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosing these and other clinical conditions at an early stage when they are more likely to be treatable. Medical diagnostics has always been one of Owlstone’s longer range target markets; it has already developed a portable, hand held device for military applications.
Owlstone has been working with top academic researcher groups who are working with its systems to develop diagnostic applications. Potentially this move could be explosive for the Cambridge Science Park business. There was always huge potential for Owlstone’s technology across a range of markets but 9/11 and the enduring threat of terrorism nudged the company’s chemical detection solution to the forefront of the homeland security market – notably in the US.
There remain major MedTech and environmental segment opportunities for the young business which in 2011 was named the inaugural winner of the Cambridge Graduate Business of the Year accolade launched by Cambridge University’s CfEL with Business Weekly.