LSK Technologies understands the urgency of getting answers to crucial questions on time. The start-up aims to create technology to make a positive impact on people. They offer a low-cost platform that enables rapid testing of versatile samples to get fast and accurate results in 30 minutes instead of the usual several days. This innovation has helped LSK achieve the following UN Sustainable development goals: good health and well-being, reduced inequalities, and partnerships for the goals through science and technology.
York University- Schulich School of Business
Seray Çiçek and Yuxiu (Livia) Guo co-founded LSK Technologies. Both were masters’ students at University of Toronto. In 2018, under the supervision of their professor, Keith Pardee, the three invented the portable diagnostic device that was able to complete rapid testing of the zika virus. They created a method of testing for infectious diseases in a point of need way. There are generally two types of point-of-need tests for viral detection: antigen or molecular tests. This falls under the molecular test, which has a higher sensitivity and gives more accurate results. Professor Pardee, the Chief Scientific Officer with LSK, created a special paper that changes color in reaction to the genome.Cicek and Guo created PLUM-HT™, a device that was able to use this paper to detect, within half an hour, if a virus is present.
The initial purpose of this innovation was to provide an affordable portable device to detect the Zika virus, especially in Latin America, where the virus was still prevalent. This device eliminated the need for a centralized lab and was used in Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador. These countries were still working on controlling the spread of Zika virus in 2018. An affordable solution meant that individuals could get tested and start treatment right away, focusing on good health and well-being.
With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the team pivoted towards tweaking the device to detect for Covid-19 before it became a pandemic. They created prototypes, ran pilot projects, and secured funding and investment of over $750,000 within one year. Currently, LSK Technologies has two devices: one does rapid testing but requires lab staff and is available for purchase, while the other is in the research and development phase and will not require lab staff for assistance. The advanced camera vision technology of the PLUM-HT™ allows one to analyze optical reactions at low costs and in high-throughput.
The idea for the PLUM-HT™ originated during their post-graduate studies when the co-founders, Cicek and Guo, were working in professor Pardee’s lab. The original device was user-friendly, even for individuals without special medical or lab expertise. Afifa Saleem, a Microfluidics Engineer at LSK Technologies, explained that “a special paper was created that changed color in reaction to a viral genome, meaning if the viral RNA or DNA was present, then they could detect it using that special paper. Simply adding a medical sample and incubating it could allow detection of a virus within one hour, instead of the usual several days.” One thing that attracted Cicek about this project was that “it was something that could have a direct impact right now in this world.”
Both co-founders took a trip to Brazil and saw people were still working on controlling the Zika virus. Other countries such as Colombia and Ecuador were facing similar problems. Saleem explained that “a lot of time was spent on designing the device to be more accessible to users, and Cicek and Guo wanted to create an affordable solution for people in underdeveloped countries.” The duo wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives. They competed at the Velocity Fund Pitch Competition in 2020 and explained that “by bringing diagnostic capacity to the doctor’s office, we can fundamentally change how we respond to global pandemics. Our decentralized model will help keep the world healthy and protected,” she noted.
The PLUM-HT™ could not have come at a better time. In 2015, thousands of babies were affected by the Zika virus outbreak, which caused brain malfunction (Lowe , et al., 2018). This crisis made one thing clear: there was a need for low-cost, rapid testing that could be functional beyond the walls of sophisticated diagnostic laboratories. For this reason, LSK Technologies created a portable and affordable solution: the PLUM-HT™. Fast forward to 2019, when the outbreak of COVID-19 emerged, “the previous 'little-known' problem of diagnosing infectious diseases became a paramount global concern.” (Guo, 2021).
In the short term, the LSK technologies’ co-founders focused on answering the questions and solving those challenges they faced while in the field in South America. The purpose was to provide a solution to global disruption. Good health and well-being were primary concerns for Cicek and Guo. The PLUM-HT™ was the first step in order to initiate treatment for those affected by infectious diseases. In addition, LSK aims to end preventable deaths and the spread of communicable diseases through the use of this affordable and portable technology.
The long-term impact of this innovation is that it is creating the building blocks to testing for infectious diseases. Deploying affordable technological solutions in underdeveloped countries to help those in poverty will tremendously help those in need. This long-term impact can help future generations prosper instead of being held back by inequality due to financial circumstances.
The co-founders built a product that was ready for diagnostic testing and were looking to commercialize it. In 2019, they joined an incubator to get the start-up off the ground, and with the help of mentors and organizations such as uTest and H2i, the research shifted into something that could be commercialized. The PLUM-HT™ was designed to test any infectious disease, not one in particular, but with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new opportunity arose for LSK Technologies. The start-up faced rapid growth when the PLUM-HT™ was tweaked as a covid testing device. “They worked on addressing the pandemic and worked with organizations that want to be able to test for covid,” said Saleem.
In February of 2020, LSK Technologies secured $100,000 from the Velocity Health Tech Fund and the Velocity investment Fund. “Recently, the company is working on completing their $2 million seed funding round. In addition, they were awarded the Canadian Institute of Health Research grant of $500,000 for specifically testing their device as a Covid diagnostic tool,” she added. This grant was fundamental in helping the organization grow in terms of hiring new talent and commercializing its product.
When asked why she liked working at LSK Technologies, Saleem explained, “I love that it has a start-up, innovative culture where new ideas are welcomed and encouraged. They are flexible and willing to work with their employees to ensure higher productivity by everyone.” In addition, a wide variety of tools and resources are available for employees to test and validate ideas quickly. Because the co-founders recognize rising opportunities, they are able to make the business successful.
Intending to benefit society, Cicek and Guo built technology that would bring lab-quality tests to the point of need. The easy-to-use and cost-effective elements of the PLUM-HT™ have allowed tremendous benefit to society. Currently, labs and researchers across various universities are buying the technology. However, individuals without special medical or lab expertise find the PLUM-HT™ is user-friendly. "One of the major benefits of our device is that its covid testing platform is really good for remote commuters in Canada. In addition, it is an exceptional resource for indigenous communities with little to no access to laboratories," stated Saleem.
LSK Technologies has identified its market as community centers, pharmacies, airports, remote communities, and much of the developing world to ensure maximum benefit. "We would like to ensure that we can tackle prominent epidemics around the world, specifically in developing nations where it's otherwise difficult to maintain and house more expensive equipment," she noted. In addition, the company hopes that all societies can benefit from its high quality, low cost, simple logistics, and fast scalability.
Afifa Saleem, Microfluidics Engineer
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Toronto, Ontario, CA
Business Website: https://www.lifesci-key.com/
Year Founded: 2018
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
LSK offers an innovative platform that enables nucleic acid testing of versatile samples at any time. You can generate the result in 30 minutes with a real time access to results. Thanks to the advanced camera vision technology, you are able to quantitativly analyze optical reactions at a very low cost and in high-throughput.