Sheffield spin-out set up to facilitate life-science discoveries

Understanding how molecules interact within the body is essential in supporting the development of treatments and therapies. Exciting Instruments, a University of Sheffield spin-out company, is breaking down barriers for researchers in this field.

Abstract woman scientist illustration

The development of many novel drugs, vaccines and therapies (such as the Covid-19 vaccine) requires a fundamental understanding of the role that complex molecules such as proteins and DNA play within the body. 

Within the past 30 years single molecule spectroscopy (SMS) techniques have become a key tool in studying these types of complex molecules. They allow scientists to look at individual molecules rather than many thousands of molecules in a bulk sample. SMS can help reveal detailed information about the behaviour of molecules that could otherwise be hidden by large groups of molecules.

SMS has helped revolutionise investigations into many fundamental biological processes, such as DNA damage detection, where improved understanding could lead to better therapies for diseases including cancer. However, researchers still face considerable barriers to performing these types of experiments due to the high cost and large size of the instruments needed.

A joint venture between Dr Tim Craggs, a Lecturer in Biological Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, and Bulldozer Limited, a software and technology incubator based in Sheffield, is addressing these barriers. Exciting Instruments has developed a low-cost and simple to use single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy instrument that sits on the bench top.

The company’s first product, the EI-FLEX is capable of performing single-molecule Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (smFRET) and Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS). 

Exciting Instruments Spectroscopy Machine

It is equipped with software that provides real-time data visualisations allowing investigations into the folding, complexing and binding of molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) to be carried out at the push of a button.

Most importantly, the system is modular. Exciting Instruments plan to introduce several add-on modules for the EI-FLEX in the near future which will enable other types of fluorescence microscopy and automated sample handling. 

This will allow researchers to expand and build the capabilities of the instrument as their research grows. Providing an alternative to large, high-cost instruments and facilitating accessible single-molecule research.

We’ve developed a brilliant partnership with Dr Craggs and the University to spin out the technology and build a lasting and impactful business. We’re really excited to amplify the impact of the Lab’s innovation and democratise the technology.

Robert Bell

Managing Director of Bulldozer Limited

“We’ve built a modular instrument with easy-to-use software that enables it to serve the labs of single-molecule specialists, biochemists, and fit into the workflows of biotech companies.” explains Dr Tim Craggs, Founder of Exciting Instruments.

This type of modular system has proven a key tool in a number of academic collaborations, such as those with Dr Alison Twelvetrees at the University of Sheffield and Prof Mark Leake at the University of York, where it has been employed to understand a range of biological processes and functions. The company has grown out of these collaborations with a goal to democratise the use of single-molecule fluorescence techniques. 

“We want the broadest possible user-base to have access to these powerful analytical methods. We’ve made the EI-FLEX affordable, through our hardware innovations, and extremely simple to use through the software that we have developed in partnership with Bulldozer Limited."

"The software is key; it allows non-experts to perform these types of experiments and provides them with clear real-time data visualisations, it also enables users to export all the raw data in a non-proprietary HDF5 file format,” says Dr Tim Craggs, Founder of Exciting Instruments

Robert Bell, Managing Director of Bulldozer Limited, says: “We found that there was a real opportunity to simplify the way researchers can run these types of single molecule experiments and by enabling users to visualise their results in the software without needing to export data to another application."

"We’ve brought our experience in software development and testing to the EI-FLEX to make it as intuitive and fun to use as possible.” 

The EI-FLEX is due to be launched early next year and its commercialisation has been greatly accelerated by funding made available through the University of Sheffield’s IP Development and Commercialisation (IPDaC) and Connecting Capability (CCF) funding streams.

The funding has enabled Exciting Instruments to develop a comprehensive range of cloud connectivity and real-time analysis features which will help to simplify single molecule analysis for its users.


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