The letters in the name GPB Scientific stand for “Getting People Better,” according to founder and CEO Michael Grisham. “We work to identify promising technologies and develop them into innovations that can improve human health.”
One of these technologies originated in the Princeton laboratories of James Sturm, the Stephen R. Forrest Professor in Electrical Engineering, and Robert Austin, professor of physics. In 2004, with electrical engineering graduate student Richard Huang, the researchers published in Science a novel method for separating biological molecules and living cells by running them through a sort of microfluidic maze consisting of a silicon chip dotted with pillars. As the cells migrated past the pillars, they took different paths depending on their size. “The overall effect is like a coin-sorter but for cells,” Grisham said.
GPB Scientific is using the technology to isolate tumor cells from the blood to create a “liquid biopsy,” a non-invasive way to detect and diagnose cancer. These cells originate in solid tumors in the body’s organs and find their way into the blood. If unchecked, they can spread, or metastasize, to other organs.
By isolating these tumor cells, which comprise just a tiny fraction of the total number of cells in the blood, GPB Scientific aims to provide clinicians with a way to diagnose cancer, determine the correct course of treatment, and monitor a patient’s progress. The research by Sturm and Austin enables GPB Scientific to separate tumor cells gently and uniformly with virtually no cell loss. The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute, the National Science Foundation, the State of New Jersey and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
This transfer of University-led research into a clinical application would not be possible without the input of other experts in oncology and cell biology, Grisham said. To provide such expertise, GPB Scientific collaborates with Curt Civin, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“The real breakthroughs in technologies that benefit patients and society at large come from scientists who know how to collaborate with researchers at other institutions and in industry,” Grisham said. “That is really special. That is where true innovation comes from.”