Research News

Buffalo startup advances science of diagnosing autoimmune disease

A scientist at Aesku.NY pipette a solution containing cells onto a slide.

A scientist at Aesku.NY pipettes a solution containing cells onto a slide. Later, the liquid portion of the solution will be removed, leaving a thin layer of cells on each well of the slide. Such slides are used in diagnostic tests for autoimmune diseases. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published June 28, 2019

“For any disease, you need good diagnostics. Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you know how to treat it. This improves the quality of life for patients.”
Vijay Kumar, vice president and chief operations officer
Aesku.NY

Autoimmunity, in which a person’s own immune system attacks healthy cells, affects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. Lupus, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and many other diseases all fall under this category.

From its offices and labs in Buffalo, Aesku.NY, a life sciences startup, is developing new diagnostic tests that could ultimately improve care for patients coping with autoimmune diseases. The company also manufactures reagents for test kits, such as multiple tissues and cell-based slides for immunohistochemical detection of various autoantibodies.

“For any disease, you need good diagnostics,” says Vijay Kumar, Aesku.NY vice president and chief operations officer. “Once you have an accurate diagnosis, you know how to treat it. This improves the quality of life for patients. In addition, if diagnostic tests are good, you don’t waste time, and that cuts down on the cost of treatment per patient.”

A growing life sciences company

Aesku.NY is a spinoff of Germany-based AESKU.DIAGNOSTICS. The Buffalo startup has 15 employees at its headquarters in UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences (CBLS), with plans to hire more this year.

The firm’s focus is on developing tests that are compatible with AESKU.DIAGNOSTICS’ HELIOS system, which automates microscope analysis of blood samples, enabling automated processing and microscopic analysis of samples without the need for highly trained technologists.

Aesku.NY’s first product — approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration through the German partner company, which purchases Aesku.NY’s products and handles filing for regulatory approval — is a cost-effective screening for connective tissue disorders such as lupus. (Patients who test positive would need further testing to obtain a diagnosis for a specific disease.)

A partnership with UB’s Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics (BIG) is aiding Aesku.NY’s growth, with BIG providing funding for equipment used in cell culture and frozen tissue processing, both of which are critical to the company’s ability to develop and manufacture screening tests.

“The BIG initiative is of paramount importance to our company’s ability to meet the market demand for our products and in the development of new test methods, and hence in the success of our operations in Western New York,” Kumar says.

In addition to the development and manufacturing of test methods for the detection of autoantibodies for connective tissue and other autoimmune disorders, the company is also working on the development and subsequent manufacturing of tests for the detection of autoantibodies associated with celiac, various endocrine and other autoimmune disorders. BIG will support these efforts as well, including by connecting the startup with UB experts who can help validate the clinical efficacy of these tests.

BIG is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic development effort to advance the Buffalo Niagara region as a center for bioinformatics and life sciences research. Companies partnering with BIG gain access to biomedical, genomic and big data expertise to help advance new molecular diagnostic tests, companion diagnostics, therapeutic agents and precision medicine techniques to tailor treatment options and improve health outcomes.

Commitment to Western New York

Vijay Kumar (right), Aesku.NY vice president and chief operations officer, and Alka Mukhopadhyay, Aesku.NY project manager, stand next to the company’s HELIOS machine.

Vijay Kumar (right), Aesku.NY vice president and chief operations officer, and Alka Mukhopadhyay, Aesku.NY project manager, stand next to the company’s HELIOS machine. The HELIOS system automates microscope analysis of blood samples, speeding up diagnostic testing. Photo: Douglas Levere

Aesku.NY launched in Buffalo due to Kumar’s longstanding ties to the region. A former faculty member in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, he also earned his PhD in biochemistry from the university.

Today, Aesku.NY is one of many life sciences and health care startups in the region that have leveraged resources at UB to fuel their growth. Besides partnering with BIG and locating its first offices and labs in CBLS, Aesku.NY is part of New York State’s START-UP NY economic development program through UB.

“The investments that UB and New York State are making in the region’s life sciences economy are creating jobs here in Buffalo,” Kumar says. “For Aesku.NY, the collaboration with BIG and other programs at UB will help us scale up production of our diagnostic tests, and gather the data needed to validate and obtain regulatory approval for new tests.”

“The diagnostic tools that Aesku.NY is developing have the potential to improve care for patients while reducing costs in the health care industry,” says Christina Orsi, UB associate vice president for economic development. “This is a growing company that is investing in Western New York with support from BIG and the university.”