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Millennial Scientific Receives NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 Award

Millennial Scientific has received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). This SBIR Phase 1 project focuses on the development and deployment of innovative solid-phase extraction cartridges that incorporate electrically-conducting all-carbon spherical microparticles. Under an applied voltage, this material will facilitate selective separation and detection of tannins – a class of nuisance compounds prevalent in plant extracts.

Historically, all medical preparations were sourced from natural products extracted from plants and animals. In modern times, lead compounds of various diseases, including cancer, are derived from natural products. Analysis of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug registry of the past thirty years shows that the origins of approximately 34% of medicines could be traced back to natural products or their direct derivatives. Thus, natural products are a rich source of compounds for drug discovery. A significant challenge for high throughput bioassay screening against molecular targets is the isolation of bioactive compound mixture free from interfering nuisance compounds. Tannins are polyphenolic plant metabolites. They are well-established as ubiquitous nuisance compounds in plant extracts. A key feature that distinguishes them from other types of plant polyphenols is their non-specific binding to many different proteins leading to the precipitation of these proteins. Thus, they are considered poor drug leads. This feature also reduces digestible proteins in food, and thus, tannins are considered anti-nutritional. Over the years, their prevalence in cell-free and cell-based natural product screening assays had led to significant efforts to remove them.

"Our customer discovery interviews indicated that, during natural product extraction, removal of nuisance compounds is challenging with current reverse phase materials," said Dr. Balaji Sitharaman, president of Millennial Scientific. "Issues included unsuitable for more than single-use, pH (degrades at basic pH) and temperature (degrades at T > 60°C) restrictions, and suboptimal performance in the removal of nuisance compounds such as tannins. These technical issues affected (increased) the operational costs to manufacture the product and decreased margins."

Millennial Scientific is leveraging its patented nanomaterials and nanofabrication technologies to develop NanoPak-C, a highly differentiated all-carbon chromatography packing material, using carbon nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes, graphene, fullerenes) as starting material with a superior separation performance of aromatic compounds at a significantly lower cost. The attractive, noncovalent interactions due to pi bond stacking between aromatic rings of analyte and pi bond network on carbon nanomaterials improve separation efficiencies.

The SBIR Phase 1 award exploited the electrical conductivity of the microspheres. A prototype cartridge deposited with Nano-PakC will be used to identify conditions that selectively and repeatedly remove tannins from natural product extracts under applied electric voltage. Additionally, the award will determine parameters that will enable electrospray ionization and detection of the analyte by mass spectrometry to monitor the removal of the nuisance compounds. The scientific insights from the phase 1 activities will lay the foundation for the scale-up of this product as well as apply it for the removal of other nuisance compounds.

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