CAD Lays the Groundwork for iCubate’s DNA Testing Devices
Phillip Keane posted on September 24, 2018 |

iCubate, according to the company’s website, is a molecular diagnostic company with a novel multiplex polymerase chain reaction (mPCR) technology. It is also an integrated platform for infectious disease diagnostics and research applications.

The iC-Cassette. (Image courtesy of iCubate.)
The iC-Cassette. (Image courtesy of iCubate.)

To shed light on what this all means, and to explain how the company designed this system, we spoke to James Bullington, chief technology officer (CTO) of LSINC to learn all about it.

LSINC is a product development, engineering design and consultancy firm, which has been helping to design and produce iCubate’s products since 2008. After completing an extensive certification process, iCubate recently unveiled its medical product line to the world.

“iCubate came to us with an idea for a disease diagnostic system that would manipulate DNA by breaking it down and replicating to a level of concentration that can be detected by running each cassette through a processing machine and then through a reader to interpret, “explained Bullington.

“LSINC’s responsibility was creating the sample cassette that you place your DNA sample into that would then be hermetically sealed and [used to develop] the processor that would break down and amplify the DNA and then the reader to interpret the assay slide. All of that would be sealed within the cassette and manipulated externally by the processor and reader.”

To summarize, iCubate’s iC-Cassette is a sealed box that acts like a glovebox and allows researchers to distribute samples onto the assay slide within the cassette without the risk of contaminating the samples and allowing pathogens to escape.

When the work on the cassette is complete, it can be placed into the processor (called the iC-Processor), where the chemicals inside the cassette are manipulated by the processor and subjected to various temperatures over time, so as to create the reactions needed for reading amplified DNA from the samples. In short, the processor is both a reactor and an incubator. The processor makes use of a PCR chain reaction (polymerase chain reaction), which is a common laboratory technique used to replicate particular regions of DNA for analysis.

The iC-Cassette working in the iC-Processor.

So which CAD tools does LSINC use for designing its products?

“LSINC uses Solid Edge as its primary design tool for developing products, and we engineers have used that tool for many years.… I was actually a beta-level tester of version 2 back in the ‘80s,” said Bullington. “So, we use that for all of the 3D modeling and rendering of the product. So, as we developed concepts, we would model those concepts and render them and present them to the customer so that decisions could be made on the look and the feel of the user interface of the product as we showed them to the customers and the end users.”

Speaking of customers … who is this range of products aimed at? Clearly, this isn’t a consumer-level product—it is aimed at a more professional and academic audience.

“The customers would be people doing DNA research and disease diagnostics,” confirmed Bullington. “It could be that as the technology matures and is proliferated, we might see this technology appear in local doctors’ offices.

“For example, we could have a set that is tailored towards a respiratory panel … you might go into your doctor’s office, supply them with a specimen sample … the entire process previously may have taken days to culture the specimen to the level of detectability can now be done in a matter of hours,” explained Bullington.

“So, I could go in with a common cold, and they would have a respiratory panel with most of the common cold identifiers on it, and once the cassette is processed and placed in the reader, it digitizes an array within the cassette that determines which markers are associated with which types of disease.”

It is indeed a disruptive technology, then, and has the potential to bring enhanced health care to the masses.

So, why exactly is this product better than existing processes? What specifically makes the physical machine different than the traditional alternatives?

“In the cases of many processes that are out there, they’re not self-contained,” said Bullington. “From the time that this product has been developed, many of the processes involved manual application of the chemicals onto a slide, which would then be manually placed into a system with the inability to analyze for multiples at the same time. In the case of this cassette, it may be able to detect for as many as 50 different types of pathogens at the same time depending on what assay or array is loaded onto the cassette.”

Automation and computation is therefore the key to this project’s success. The combination of both of these factors is allowing a reduction in workload and an increase in productivity (and accuracy).

So, why choose Siemens products over other CAD providers? Aside from Bullington’s previous experience with Solid Edge, he offers further insights into LSINC’s choice of CAD platform.

“From a small business consulting standpoint, Solid Edge offers a wide array of tools for manipulating non-native geometry, which when you’re bringing in other peoples’ models or when you’re bringing in third-party data and you need to modify it, and quickly get it into usable form for design, it has been the most efficient for doing so,” said Bullington.

“The design tools are very straightforward and are very powerful from the viewpoint of doing surface geometry and complex surfaces. Whereas the iCubate product itself did not have a lot of free-form geometry, we work on a lot of other products that have, and Solid Edge is very effective for that purpose.”

On the subject of effectivity, we all know that CAD accelerates the design process. But can we quantify it in this case study? You bet we can! We asked how long it took to develop the iCubate systems with Solid Edge.

“If you’re considering the first iteration, it probably took a six-month development cycle, but that takes the raw concept into the first product, and factors in tooling lead times and so on. Subsequent iterations with further revisions to that product extended the development time by another six to nine months. We started developing the product for them in 2008 … we handed off the tech data package to the customer in 2010, and they received their agency certification in 2017,” explained Bullington.

Of course, being a medical-based product, it required a lot of certification—hence, the fast development time compared to the time required to bring the product to market. 

It just goes to show, no matter how efficient our CAD systems are in the 21st century, bureaucracy still has a long way to go before it catches up! But that’s all par for the course. These systems exist for a reason. Maybe one day, we’ll have robots do that job for us. We live in hope. But, we digress....

Regardless of the bureaucratic sand traps that those engaging in high-end engineering experience, LSINC is in it for the long haul, and is continually providing support to iCubate—not just during the product inception stage, but all throughout the development cycle.

“We have continued to monitor their production, and we have continued to work with the customer on developing the tools for injection molding, “said Bullington. “So, we’ve continued to monitor the effectiveness of those tools. We also provide updates to engineering as needed, and iCubate themselves now has a seat of Solid Edge to do their ongoing work.”

So, there you have it. We don’t often cover biomedical devices on engineering.com, but as you can see, our favorite CAD tools are being used in all industries, and are helping small businesses make big leaps in terms of effectivity, allowing doctors and researchers to accelerate diagnoses and free up their time to do the other tasks that are important to them—and more importantly, to their patients.

You can see a video of how the iCubate cassette works below.

Or if you’re working in biomedical research and would like to know more about the company’s range of products, you can visit iCubate’s website here.

And for those of you interested in trying Solid Edge for yourselves, you can get a free 45-day trial right here.

Solid Edge has sponsored this post. They have had no editorial input to this post. Unless otherwise stated, all opinions are mine. —Phillip Keane

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