Two decades ago, the Human Genome Project unraveled the way DNA acts in building life.
Now the American Gut Project is working to unravel the way microbes in the gut control the way we live. And a Farmington startup is at the center of the effort.
In a small lab off Farmington Avenue, Arome Science is conducting what CEO Alexey Melnik describes as non-targeted biomarker discovery. Others in the marketplace do targeted testing, he explains, but Arome is focused on doing non-targeted testing.
When a physician orders, say, a cholesterol test, a patient’s blood is examined for certain characteristics. That’s targeted discovery, Melnik explains. But that same blood sample yields an abundance of additional data that’s not being reported. And some of that data could be quite important in diagnosing other conditions.
Today, Arome is working on research projects for a number of large clients, including the top five pharmas. The work is important in helping understand how drugs are converted by the body. It’s also helpful in pinpointing toxins in the body – from pesticides to Teflon – and informing drug development.
The contract work provides the financial underpinnings of the self-funded Arome Science. But it’s just a step toward a longer-term goal.
Arome’s main tool is the mass spectrometer, a powerful and expensive piece of lab equipment that analyzes a wide range of substances. It’s had a starring role in a host of television procedural dramas, from CSI to NCIS. Now Melnik sees a path to giving consumers access to the technology for informing their own healthcare decisions.
Melnik says that within as few as three years Arome could be doing work directly for consumers. The cost of analysis is coming down toward $ 100 per sample and progress is being made toward winning regulatory approval for such testing.
It’s all part of a burgeoning “right-to-test” movement that seeks to put the patient in the driver’s seat on health decisions. And one of the focus areas is the balance of microbes in the human gut. Understanding that balance could hold the key to controlling food allergies, weight gain and a host of diseases.
The Human Microbe Project (2007-2016) confirmed that human microbes are as unique as fingerprints. Since 2012, the American Gut Project has been seeking deeper understanding on how to manage microbes and their behavior in human health, including the influence of diet, lifestyle and disease.
Within 10 years, Melnik predicts, a consumer could swallow a capsule that gathers data on gut microbes. Within 24 hours, Arome could generate a wide-ranging report that could advise healthcare decisions.
Arome has its roots in San Diego. When one of the co-founders landed a job at UConn, Arome followed, and Melnik says the decision has worked out well.
He describes the Connecticut ecosystem as a help in Arome’s development, particularly access to facilities in UConn’s biotech incubator. He says Arome also has found the local talent pool to be deep.
The immediate hurdle is winning regulatory certification as a research-grade lab, Melnik says.