Sometimes, to expand you have to contract and focus first. When U.S. 1 initially wrote about David Dingott and his startup, Sword Diagnostics, to readers (U.S. 1, May 17, 2006) the company had a nice little package for detecting food poisons more rapidly and accurately than anyone in the market. Sword’s chemistry and nanotechnology indeed set the company above the competition. Trouble was, the competition of this Chester-based company were billion-dollar, global diagnostic corporations that held long-term contracts and had massive distribution capabilities.

So what’s a company to do when its better mousetrap is succeeding, but not at the rate it deserves? The answer came to Dingott from one of his competitors, and has led to a focus on what the Sword Diagnostics team does best. Dingott will present his new Sword Diagnostic Reader (which speeds up the diagnostic testing process for food poisoning and a range of human diseases) at the New Jersey Entrepreneur’s Forum on Thursday, May 14, at 4 p.m. at the Commercialization for Innovative Technologies in North Brunswick. Cost: $35. Visit www.njef.org.

Son of Polish immigrants, Dingott grew up in New York City, where his mother worked as a lab technician. “Just about all of the relatives of my generation seem to have ended up in the sciences,” Dingott says. After earning his engineering bachelor’s from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, Dingott earned his master’s in electronics engineering and computer science from Columbia.

Dingott joined AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, where for 18 years he helped push the envelope of the burgeoning computer field. He then launched several new companies, including OpenReach, which is now part of Corentes Inc. He founded Sword Diagnostics in 2005 in Chester, then moved to Summit-Argo, Illinois. Now with the renovation of his company, Dingott hopes to bring Sword Diagnostics back to the Garden State.

“Why are you trying to compete with us, Dave? Why not just niche yourself in the final step of the diagnostic process, and let us handle the rest?” These words of query and advice came from the CEO of one of France’s largest diagnostic corporations. The CEO had witnessed Sword’s Diagnostic’s revolutionary method of using Raman spectroscopy to detect pathogens in food, instead of the slower, less accurate ELISA method commonly employed. Dingott agreed, and a partnership is now in formation.

Nanotech detection. The ELISA (enzymed-linked immunosorbent assay) process for determining disease has been the industry standard for everyone, including Sword Diagnostic’s new French partner. In this technique, a sample of the individual’s blood or tissue is washed over with a predetermined antibody known to combine itself to the suspect bacteria, or with the disease’s biomarker. For example, cardiac arrest produces elevated levels of tryptomene. When the selected antibody is injected and links with the tryptomene, the addition of a certain enzyme makes the compound shine flourescently.

The problem is that such tests are slow and not accurate. “We’ve all heard of doctors who must tell patients that they must wait six months to know for certain if their patients really have cancer,” says Dingott. “They are, in fact, waiting for the disease to progress enough to be detected. This creates a terrible delay in treatment.”

Sword took this diagnostic process a giant stride forward by the use of Raman spectroscopy. Earning its discoverer, Indian scientist Sir C.V. Raman, the 1930 Nobel Prize in physics, Raman spectroscopy involves bombarding the sample with light, rather than antibodies. The reflected portion of the light undergoes what’s known as a Stokes shift — scattering back the light in an absolute fingerprint of the substance that is sought.

By adding Sword’s special chemistry process to the mix, the company has moved disease detection from the optical stage, into the molecular. By working in this more minute level, the entire diagnosis pace quickens exponentially.

In a demonstration test, Sword’s new method detected e-coli virus 46 times more rapidly and accurately than ELISA.

Focusing and broadening. It was clear that Dingott held an enormously beneficial and profitable piece of technology. It was also clear that marketing it to end users, such as meat packers, was proving to be an uphill battle. The Sword Diagnostic Reader had a $30,000 price tag, and involved substantial operational changes in testing.

“There’s two parts to diagnosis testing,” explains Dingott. “First is to develop the test methods for determining how much of the disease is present, then, secondly, you perform the test and read the results. We have decided to get out of the first section and niche ourselves securely in the second.” Thus, the initial reader was re-engineered to take a whole range of samples, and Dingott’s team developed new specific chemistry to test for scores of individual diseases.

To position themselves in this final stage of detection, Sword has partnered with Boston-based Digilab, which is manufacturing the piece for free in exchange for partial distribution rights. The new French partner will also have certain distribution capabilities, but Dingott emphasizes that no rights are exclusive. He is now garnering funds to bring aboard more distributors who are lining up to deliver this innovation into use.

In final analysis, the patients will be the big winner from Dingott’s new diagnostic machine. Quicker detection translates into faster, less expensive treatment. The installation of these rapid readers should prove quite literally a life saver to countless patients. Sword Diagnostics has followed the primary rule of a startup company: find the best possible way to benefit the public.

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