Taking the fight to COVID-19.
The device is small and sturdy, able to withstand a bumpy ride on a back road. You can’t say that for most laboratories, but that’s where the Fluxergy Analyzer is unique—a mighty mobile lab designed to serve diverse settings, from a remote town to a high-tech hospital. And given the prevalence of a virus like COVID-19, versatility is key.
Fluxergy founders Tej Patel ’10, MS ’12, and Ryan Revilla ’10 first sought to solve a problem: How could laboratory tests be conducted on a remote farm, or in a small town with no infrastructure, or even right in a doctor’s office? What if one compact tool could run a gamut of samples with a rapid result?
“If you have a large laboratory machine to process tests, it has to be in one dedicated spot with a team of people trained to use it,” Revilla explains. “Even if you can run a lot of samples at once, you still have to funnel all of those samples into that one place. There’s a whole supply chain involved, and there is inherently going to be a delay.”
The Fluxergy Analyzer has gone through a dozen iterations since it was first created in 2013. Most recently, the team responded to the pandemic by enabling the system to perform a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. And results come back in an hour or less, far faster than most.
The development was particularly timely now that the need for regular testing is more critical than ever. “Developing a new test was actually very easy for us because we used the existing laboratory technology on our platform,” says Patel. “It is scalable, so you can control up to 256 devices at one time via a tablet or computer to have surge capacity if needed.”
The Fluxergy team has correspondingly ramped up manufacturing, building a new facility at their headquarters in Irvine, Calif., that will allow them to produce a minimum of 100,000 test cartridges a month, with the potential to grow to one million.
And not only has their square footage multiplied, so has their team. What started as a group of four has grown to over 60, with many of their core team members holding degrees from UC San Diego—including Roy Heltsley ’10, Steve Lee ’09, MS ’12, Farzad Izadi Karazi ’10, and Eric Mendonsa ’15.
“A lot of our initial team is from UC San Diego; there is a certain DNA that comes from there,” says Revilla. “Our alumni team members are big thinkers with a lot of grit.”
Mendonsa agreed, “It’s a really collaborative environment here; we encourage problem-solving from everyone, leveraging everyone’s unique backgrounds.”
Their minds are always moving, just as their name suggests: Fluxergy, a combination of the classical prefix for “flow” and suffix for “work.” Their energies are currently focused on producing pooled sample testing for asymptomatic people. This method involves combining a large amount samples into a single sample, greatly reducing the amount of time it would take to process them separately. If a positive were discovered, the individual samples could be run again to narrow them down.
“One of the big advantages of this system is it can help open up the workforce,” says Patel. “Some combination of point-of-care and pooled sample testing can help to ensure that shifts are all COVID-19 free. If there is a positive, they can isolate that shift of people to ensure the rest of the team stays safe.”
As flu season approaches, the Fluxergy team is also concentrating on developing a serology test to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as its antibodies, using a nasal swab or fingertip blood sample. In addition, they plan to offer a way to quickly differentiate between multiple viruses— including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus, all of which have similar symptoms.
“We’re not just following what other people are doing. We take our own approach and solve it ourselves,” says Revilla. Patel adds, “There’s always a new challenge to solve. We take great pride in doing something that is different, unique and very impactful.”