University licenses alcohol abuse test to Proactive Medical Technologies

May 13, 2004

AUSTIN, Texas—Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a blood test that has the potential to detect whether a person abuses alcohol.

The university has licensed the technology to Proactive Medical Technologies Inc., an Austin-based company. Proactive will develop the technology into a useful diagnostic product with potential applications in the military, industry and government agencies among others.

The blood test looks for markers that identify ongoing alcohol abuse. The markers are genes that have been affected by consumption of alcohol. A single drop of blood is analyzed for expressions of thousands of gene products simultaneously. This process is called multiplex testing.

“There is an increasing demand by many organizations to know that those who are responsible for others’ lives are operating at full capacity,” said David Skillern, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Proactive.

Professor R. Adron Harris, director of the university’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, and his team of researchers have checked 40,000 genes and found that about 400 are affected by abuse of alcohol. “Part of the effects of alcoholism on the body and part of the development of the disease are changes in the function of genes,” said Harris, who holds the M. June and J. Virgil Waggoner Chair in Molecular Biology.

He emphasized that the test is not genetic testing to determine if someone has a genetic predisposition toward alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

“This is an after-the-fact test that shows whether someone has abused alcohol,” he said. “It can, however, detect abuse much earlier than other biological identifiers such as liver damage. The earlier we catch a disease, the more effective treatment is.”

The agreement is the latest of the university’s Office of Technology Commercialization’s (OTC) accelerated efforts to turn university discoveries into products.

“This agreement benefits the university, Proactive, and the community,” said Neil Iscoe, OTC director. “We’re particularly pleased that we were able to license to a Texas company that has international reach.”

Proactive is applying for small business innovation research grants from the National Institutes of Health for development of the test. It also plans to work with advocacy groups and public policy groups to understand what impact such a test will have.

Harris and the team of researchers developed the blood test after working with human brain tissue taken from autopsies.

“We showed that from autopsy brain samples, we can tell the difference between alcoholics and non-alcoholics by which genes are turned on and turned off,” Harris said. “We then asked, would this work in blood? Can we take a blood sample and see a clear difference? And there are clear distinctions in blood samples. That’s what we’re developing into the test.”

Proactive will work to reduce the number of markers from the 400 the university researchers identified to a more effective number.

“You want to measure about 10 things that give an accurate picture,” Harris said. “This gives us an opportunity to choose the 10 best.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Dr. Harris and his staff in bringing this application to the markets. We believe this technology will have great benefit to society,” said George Leppert, Proactive’s chief executive. “We look forward to our ongoing partnership with the University of Texas and our role in helping UT’s efforts to commercialize its technologies.”

About the Waggoner Center

The Waggoner Center is a premier center of research to define the molecular and genetic underpinnings of alcohol and drug addictions to further prevention and treatment efforts. The center was established with $5 million in support from M. June and J. Virgil Waggoner of Houston. The objective is to create the world’s premier center for alcohol and addiction research, thereby developing solutions for the prevention and cure of alcoholism.

About PMT, Inc.

Proactive Medical Technologies, Inc., based in Austin, Texas, is a private company focused on the rapid development and commercialization of novel molecular analysis technologies that are strategically positioned to address the growing demand for efficient, cost effective clinical diagnostic testing. Molecular Diagnostics has become a critically important tool for the clinical market and other fields where insights into biological interactions and disease processes accelerate and enhance therapeutic decision-making.

For more information contact: Tim Green, 512-423-5806.