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Mice sniffing out Parkinson's and explosives

Alumna Charlotte D’Hulst manipulates mice in order to unravel the human sense of smell, sniff out explosives and detect the early signs of Parkinson’s in patients’ sweat.

It’s all in a day’s work at her company in New York – the place to be for biotech entrepreneurs. Her first attempt to create a ‘supersniffer’ resulted in a publication in the journal Cell Reports.  

In February 2016, after fine-tuning the technology, she founded the MouSensor start-up with the aim of making a range of different ‘supermice’. She recently obtained 300 000 dollars from the US Department of Defense to put her supermice to work in detecting explosives. The mice can also be used to sniff out diseases, such as Parkinson’s, which can be detected in the sebum on a patient’s skin.

The start-up was recently awarded 100 000 dollars in research funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, an organisation which promotes research and technology for Parkinson’s patients all around the world. But what Charlotte really wants to do next is integrate her knowledge with nanotechnology. The ultimate goal of MouSensor is a biotechnological ‘nose’ on a chip, which could be used to detect diseases in blood, sweat or urine, for example. To do this, she would like to set up a partnership with imec, a spin-off from Leuven and world-leader in nanochip technology.

D’Hulst is happy that universities want to encourage more entrepreneurship. She also knows that she is in just the right place at the right time. New York is aiming to become the new Silicon Valley for biotech, and is facilitating young start-ups with a range of initiatives including subsidised incubator spaces for carrying out research.

Read the full article (Dutch) in the UAntwerp Magazine | March 2017