Colorado State University Cancer Supercluster Fosters Chromatid-Painting Business to Help Identify Risk of Cancer and Other Diseases

A bioscience company dedicated to improving detection of DNA damage on a scale never before possible has been born from Colorado State University’s Cancer Supercluster. The process may someday help doctors to better identify people at risk of developing cancer, improve treatments and even uncover unknown causes of mental retardation and infertility.

KromaTiD Inc. was founded by three Colorado State professors and two external partners to create new products for chromosome analysis. They are developing innovative ways to ‘paint’ chromosomes to better pinpoint minute, yet significant, rearrangements formed when chromosomes break and then reattach in different – and wrong – ways.  

Chromosomes, made up of DNA, break when they are damaged, like when a body is exposed to radiation such as X-rays. The reattached, out-of-place pieces of chromosomes are often the cause of disease; more than 500 specific chromosome changes have already been found in human tumor cells. While scientists know that rearranged chromosomes are often linked with disease, very small rearrangements, especially those that occur within the same chromosome, are very difficult to detect and so many may await discovery. Tiny pieces of the chromosome can break and flip end-for-end before fitting back in. These rearrangements, called inversions, may be small, but that does not mean they are any less harmful.

"Small inversions are virtually invisible to all current cytogenetic techniques, but we know inversions occur frequently and that they are related to a variety of diseases, including leukemia, thyroid  cancer and hypertension," said Susan Bailey, a co-founder of KromaTiD and professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. "Scientists have tools to ‘paint’ chromosomes, or color them with various florescent dyes, that help them see when pieces from different chromosomes reattach incorrectly to each other, but until now they have not been very good at seeing pieces that are flipped around within the same chromosome. KromaTiD’s new paint technology will allow us to see much smaller inverted sections than ever before possible."

A chromosome has two sides, or chromatids, somewhat like a piece of ribbon candy, split down the middle lengthwise. Now imagine coloring one side one color, and the other side another color. KromaTiD’s approach builds on that same idea – paint one chromatid one color and the other chromatid a different color. Now, when a small piece of the chromosome breaks, flips around and reattaches upside down, the colors switch sides, making the inversion much easier to see.

KromaTiD’s paint technology is based on a technique called CO-FISH, an acronym for chromosome orientation fluorescence in situ hybridization. KromaTiD founders believe that their new technology will uncover previously unknown chromosome inversion patterns, helping scientists make new discoveries linking these rearrangements to many human diseases.

"This new information will greatly improve disease diagnosis, prognosis and treatment," Bailey said. "We anticipate uses not only for cancer patients, but also for genetic counseling."  

NASA, whose concern is space radiation exposures to astronauts on long missions to the International Space Station, the Moon and Mars, has recently awarded KromaTiD Inc. its first small-business grant. The technology is also of interest to others concerned with harmful exposures; for instance, national terrorism agencies and the nuclear power industry as well as scientists studying toxicology and genetics.

Bailey, who serves as executive secretary of KromaTiD, is joined by fellow Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences professors F. Andrew Ray, serving as KromaTiD’s treasurer, and Joel Bedford, who serves as executive vice president. The three founded KromaTiD along with partners Edwin Goodwin, CEO, who is a retired researcher from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Michael Cornforth, vice president of research and development, a researcher at University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.

The start-up company has come a long way, supported by the university’s Cancer Supercluster and NeoTREX, the non-profit arm of the Supercluster devoted to helping CSU professors move their research discoveries into the marketplace. NeoTREX has helped KromaTiD Inc. with all aspects of technology transfer, guiding them through filing patents, licensing and ongoing business development needs.

Colorado State’s innovative Superclusters are alliances of academic researchers, economists and business experts organized to address great global challenges, encourage collaboration and bridge business and academia. Each Supercluster combines an academic component and a business component, which allows the public to reap benefits from the university’s unsurpassed research and greater acceleration of this research to market.