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University Lab Spins-Off Fertility Testing Company

Katie Brenner in lab

Katie Brenner (Bryce Richter, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison)

29 April 2016. A new company is taking shape that aims to make it easier for women to get pregnant, based on research at a biochemistry lab at University of Wisconsin. BluDiagnostics, in Madison, founded by postdoctoral research Katie Brenner in the lab of biochemistry professor Douglas Weibel, a co-founder of the company, already raised $1.2 million in seed funding.

Brenner’s interest in the topic is more than academic. In her own experiences to start a family, Brenner discovered the difficulty and unreliability of finding the optimal ovulation time that today uses a combination of urine and blood tests to measure levels of hormone indicators. “We looked at how many women struggle to become pregnant,” says Brenner in a university statement, “and they don’t know if it’s something about their body, their partner’s body, or just poor timing. It’s hard to find information at a time when you want a lot of information and control.”

At Wisconsin, Brenner applies her bioengineering doctorate to practical microbiology issues. In this case, she and Weibel devised a process where women wet a paper strip with saliva, a more readily available bodily fluid than blood or urine. The paper strip is infused with reagents that test for the hormones progesterone and estrogen, where changes in levels are indicators of ovulation.

Hormone level measurements from the paper strip are sent to a smartphone app called Fertility Finder that records the readings and tracks the daily measurements over time. Brenner adds that “nobody wants to take a blood test every day, so we developed one using saliva instead.” She and Weibel filed a patent application for their technology.

BluDiagnostics started officially in 2012 with life sciences business consultant Jodi Schroll joining Brenner and Weibel as co-founder, but real activity with the company began only last year. In the space of three months, June through August 2015, BluDiagnostics won three business contests in Wisconsin, including the Governor’s Business Plan Competition. These wins helped the company attract loans of $1.2 million as seed funding in January and February of 2016.

BluDiagnostics aims to gain FDA approval for its device, and reach the market in 2017. Brenner believes its basic technology can be extended to improve reporting on other women’s health issues. “Most studies collect self-reported data on menstrual cycles: what you ate, your mood and exercise, and try to reach medical conclusions,” she notes. “For the first time, we will marry that data with cold, hard numbers to support a better understanding of relationships between hormonal trends and underlying disorders.”

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