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Next-Generation Protein Sequencing Going Lab-to-Market

By Marshall Child

graphic design image of a science lab set-up with breakers and other lab equipment
Credit: Pixabay

The Technology Maturation Accelerator Program (TMAP) was begun at NIST in 2019 to provide a platform for NIST scientists and engineers to help propel their lab-created innovations to the commercial market in an accelerated timeline. Each year, the labs at NIST submit proposals for their projects deemed the easiest to commercialize. The finalists are selected and are given a chance to pitch their innovations to a panel of venture capitalists and business experts. The judges select the winners based on the following: potential market opportunity, a unique and/or defensible component, and the ability to attract financial or venture investment to scale for their projects. Each winning team is granted a set amount of NIST funds to get their projects more market-ready in one year with the end goal of full commercialization. TMAP is a platform to help bridge the worlds of federal government and the private sector together in a collaborative effort to help drive the U.S. economy forward with the latest, cutting-edge technologies.

November of 2019 was the inaugural TMAP, which brought with it a great selection of NIST scientists and engineers and their innovations. One of the winning teams was comprised of John Marino (team leader), Zvi Kelman, and Jennifer Tullman-Arbogast of the Material Measurements Laboratory at NIST with their project entitled, “N-terminal amino acid binding (NAAB) reagents for use in next-generation protein spread prevention.” This research revolved around next-generation protein sequencing. These days, genomes tend to fall short of explaining or predicting biological systems or human health and disease. Genomes do not fully determine the complete set of proteins found in a biological system, also known as proteomes, as there are complex, regulatory processes that govern which proteins are translated from a genome and at what abundance.  Direct measurements of proteomes are therefore essential and required to fully realize the potential of genome sequencingTo drive this technology forward, John’s team created novel, protein-based sensors NAABs for use in next-generation protein sequencing. The NAAB sensors provide sequential recognition and detection of specific amino acids comprising a protein sequence.

Following TMAP, as John’s team began to accelerate their protein-sequencing technology, the private sector began to take notice. A startup company, whose mission is to develop a next-generation, single molecule, protein sequencing platform, took quick notice of this project and negotiated an exclusive commercial license with NIST for engineered protein reagents, invented by John Marino, Zvi Kelman, and Jennifer Tullman-Arbogast. These protein reagents are a key infrastructural technology for the approach they want to take for their cutting-edge platform. From the NIST team pitching their innovation at TMAP on campus, to using the winning funds to accelerate their project in the lab, to licensing their technology to a company, this was a complete lab-to-market success.

Released March 23, 2021