During the long, dark months of COVID-19, medical researchers raced to develop a solution to save humanity from the deadly pandemic. Reem Mahrat was among them—and she was determined to make a difference. She’s the visionary co-founder and CEO of RamanID, a new sensing and diagnostics technology company with a groundbreaking platform that allows instant, seamless, and simultaneous detection of pathogens—whether the flu, COVID, or other infectious diseases. The test can be deployed by nonmedical personnel as a screening tool in venues, airports, stadiums, clinics, hospitals, festivals, concerts, offices, pharmacies, etc. From a simple saliva swab, users will know in under 30 seconds if a virus is present. “We believe that rapid, user-friendly testing is critical for early detection. It can mean the difference between life and death,” says Reem. And she knows of what she speaks.
Reem is a highly accomplished scientist with over 20 years in immunology and drug discovery. She’s a serial entrepreneur who, driven by the loss of her father to cancer, dedicated her career to developing methods for early detection of disease. As the former co-founder and SVP of Calico Biolabs, she led scientific operations to develop novel cancer biomarkers, resulting in extraordinary discoveries that are saving people’s lives. When COVID-19 hit, Reem turned her attention toward developing a pathogen-detection test with the aim to prevent the next pandemic. Launched in April 2023, RamanID’s test has already captured the attention of the medical community, labs, and private-sector industries eager to adopt it.
We had the privilege to meet with Reem and learn more about her career, how RamanID’s test works, and what’s on the horizon in her quest to push the boundaries of innovation to save lives.
Why did you choose to focus your career on the biotechnology field and drug discovery?
The biotechnology industry offers exciting opportunities to develop new diagnostic tools, therapies, and treatments for a wide range of diseases and conditions, from cancer to genetic disorders. Drug discovery in particular is a challenging and rewarding field that requires a combination of scientific expertise, creativity, and persistence. The opportunity to develop an early detection test or new drugs that can improve the lives of patients is a powerful motivator.
How does RamanID’s pathogen-detection test work with regard to airborne viruses such as COVID or the flu?
RamanID's pathogen-detection test works by using a technology called Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy to identify the unique molecular signature of a particular pathogen. It involves the use of a laser to illuminate a sample adsorbed on nanofabricated surface, such as a pathogen, and analyzes the scattered light using artificial intelligence/machine learning to obtain information about its molecular structure. When the laser light interacts with the pathogen, it undergoes a phenomenon called Raman Scattering. This scattering process causes a small fraction of the light to shift in energy, which corresponds to the vibrational and rotational energy levels of the molecules present in the pathogen. This energy shift, known as the Raman Shift, is unique to each molecule and provides a characteristic “fingerprint” of the pathogen. By measuring the intensity and wavelength of the scattered light, a Raman Spectrometer can generate a Raman Spectrum, which represents the molecular composition of the pathogen. This spectrum can then be compared to a database of known spectra to identify the specific pathogen or determine its similarity to other pathogens.
Raman spectroscopy offers several advantages in pathogen detection. It is non-destructive, requires minimal sample preparation, and can provide rapid results. Additionally, it can be used for both qualitative identification and quantitative analysis of pathogens. With regard to airborne viruses, RamanID's test would involve collecting biological samples and analyzing them for the presence of viral particles. AI and the Raman Spectroscopy technology would then be used to identify the specific viral particles present in the sample.
The RamanID system functions as follows: A biologic sample (e.g., saliva) is deposited on the sensor substrate of a cassette inserted into the Raman Reader. The 785nm laser, aimed at the sample on the substrate, generates the Raman Scatter Spectrum. This spectrum is then registered using a sensitive CCD and compared in the cloud against known descriptions of pathogens using a deep learning (AI) algorithm and reported. This secure cloud-centric approach allows all scanners worldwide to be rapidly updated remotely when new pathogen descriptions are available. As pathogen variants evolve, their spread can be monitored in near real time.
What do you enjoy most about your work. What drives you?
I find it rewarding to develop lifesaving tools, and to have a potential impact on society. I’ve always been driven by a combination of passion, creativity, and a desire to make a difference in the world.
What other exciting innovative products are you working on?
We’re constantly exploring new ideas and technologies to develop innovative products that can make a positive impact on people’s lives. Some areas we’re currently focusing on include UTI and respiratory panels. Our innovative technology has been shown to be more sensitive than PCR, allowing for more accurate and earlier detection of UTI and respiratory infections. It’s easy to use, requires minimal sample preparation, and provides faster results compared to traditional diagnostic tests. Using our SERS platform for UTI and respiratory panels could provide significant advantages over traditional diagnostic tests. The increased accuracy and earlier detection could lead to better treatment outcomes and improved patient care. The ability to simultaneously detect more than one bacteria provides an added advantage to the RamanID. Additionally, the ease of use and faster results could make this technology a game-changer in the field of diagnostics. I’m sure many people will be eagerly awaiting the launch of this product. Our team is committed to pushing the boundaries of what is possible through collaborative science, and we’re eager to partner with clinics to develop products that will have a positive impact on the world.
Co-Founder & CEO — RamanID