Desire to experiment provides starting point for new virus test
10 January 2023
An enthusiastic researcher, a lab experiment that was actually supposed to go wrong, and dedicated innovation support. That is the recipe for how a new rapid test for diagnosing respiratory diseases could see the light of day.
The pandemic was at its height when Liza Löf – who was on parental leave at the time – was asked whether she was interested in setting up a detection method for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Liza Löf is a researcher at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology and SciLifeLab, in a lab led by Professors Masood Kamali-Moghaddam and Ulf Landegren that is focusing – with great success – on developing and using molecular techniques.
Unexpectedly exciting results
“A month after Masood phoned, I was back in the lab and started my experiments. I based my experiments on the padlock method, padlock probes, which was developed here by Ulf Landegren and Mats Nilsson back in 1994. I really enjoy testing new things in the lab while remaining open-minded, and one day I just went blank and thought the whole thing was going to be a tremendous flop. But instead, I stood there holding my test tube and got a readout,” says Liza Löf.
She had simply managed to create a reaction in her test tube, so that when the virus she was aiming to detect was in the tube, it fell out like a ball that was easy to see with the naked eye.
“I ran into Masood’s office and showed him the test tube, and told him we had to do something about it!
A few hundred experiments later, she had developed a method that can be used in rapid diagnostics.
New type of rapid diagnostics
Liza Löf’s goal as a student was to work in industry, and that is exactly what she did for a few years after completing her postgraduate studies with Kamali-Moghaddam and Landegren. But when she had the opportunity to return to the research team, she took it.
“I just could not pass up the chance to conduct research here, where there are so many exciting projects in the pipeline and so many people who know so much,” she says.
The new method that Liza Löf came up with that day in the lab is now being developed into a type of rapid diagnostics focusing on respiratory diseases. Her idea is to develop a test that can measure several different viruses all at once so that the right treatment can be started quickly.
“My first thought was to develop a test that could be used in the developing world – to detect hepatitis, for example – but then I realised it is easier to start something in the West and then find ways to establish a presence in developing countries,” she says.
Helping people has always been Liza Löf’s driving force as a researcher.
“Just imagine. If you can save just one person, you have done something amazing!”
A whole new experience
Liza Löf has been working as a researcher for a long time now, but taking her research results beyond academia is completely new to her.
“I really enjoy doing something different, and this is something I have never done before. So it is great to have the talented innovation support that is available in Uppsala. UIC, Almi and UU Innovation have all helped me out. My mentor on the UU Innovation mentoring programme is still my advisor and a member of my advisory board,” she explains.
Now Liza Löf has started a company to commercialise her rapid test, and she is looking forward to taking on the role of CEO.
“But I will still be working part-time at the university, one day a week. There is so much research that I find interesting, so I do not want to drop that. But starting a company is a bit like building a house, which I actually did in parallel with all this. You create something out of nothing, and that is incredibly exciting!”
Frida Henningson Johnson