Developing New Technologies to Streamline Forensic Analysis

A woman speaks at a podium indoors in front of a seated crowd with a SUNY logo behind her.
Chemistry PhD student Alexis Weber presents at the SUNY Startup Summer School (S4) Class of 2022 Demo Day. (Photo by Patrick Dodson)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (Aug. 11, 2022) — Among the issues facing the more than 600 crime labs in the United States, one of the key priorities is tackling the backlog of evidence in need of DNA analysis.

“When it comes to forensic science, DNA is the gold standard,” said University at Albany PhD student Alexis Weber while presenting at the SUNY Startup Summer School (S4) Class of 2022 Demo Day. “But when DNA evidence isn’t available, it’s non-DNA evidence that’s used next.”

For Weber, the challenge then becomes finding a faster way to determine what types of fluids are either present at a crime scene or have been collected for analysis, thereby streamlining the labwork that remains to be done.

In addition to studying for her PhD in chemistry at UAlbany, Weber is the chief operating officer (COO) at SupreMEtric, a materials authentication company and UAlbany startup founded by Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Igor Lednev in 2019.

After presenting at S4 Demo Day (one of two UAlbany teams to do so), Weber was successful in securing one of the two top prizes of $25,000 for SupreMEtric to continue its efforts to bring its technology to market.

SupreMEtric has developed a method for analyzing biological stains with a nondestructive approach utilizing laser spectroscopy and advanced statistics. Lednev’s research has shown to be more than 99 percent effective in the detection process and can be used for analysis of all main body fluids. The company has received a Phase I, $256,000 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the National Science Foundation for the commercialization of its patented technology a year ago.

People stand with oversized checks in front of a SUNY backdrop
S4 participants, including Alexis Webber, second from right, are presented with checks for their winning presentations. (Photo by SUNY)

“Multitasking was not a problem for Alexis, and it would be an understatement to say that she exceeded all my expectations,” said Lednev. “She immediately began making a significant impact to our laboratory by developing a new research project, overseeing a major federal grant, supervising undergraduate and master students, and helping me with teaching.  Alexis has already become a nationally recognized young entrepreneur. I have no doubts that a very bright future waits for Alexis, and I do hope that SupreMEtric LLC will be a part of it.”

After successfully completing Phase I of the STTRR grant, SupreMEtric is preparing a proposal for Phase II, which will target building a working prototype and validating it with major crime laboratories.

“Making such a transition from a university lab discovery to a commercial product is a significant challenge in academia,” continued Lednev. “This transition would not be possible without the very significant support and guidance provided by UAlbany, SUNY RF and the venture advisors they allow us to work with, Innovate 518, and The Center for Economic Growth. It is programs like the SUNY Startup Summer School, including the Demo Day, is one of these important activities that will make our next steps possible.”

The S4 Class of 2022 Demo Day program and competition was designed to showcase the most promising technologies and startups being developed by participants representing 174 SUNY students, faculty, and staff in emerging technologies fields. After SupreMEtric, the second $25,000 prize was awarded to LiBAMA from Binghamton University, which is commercializing the next generation of lithium batteries enabled by advanced metal anodes for enhanced battery performance.

In addition to the capital from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund Catalyst Investment, LiBAMA and SupreMEtric will also receive follow-on support from SUNY to identify and write strong proposals for grant funding, which will allow the teams to continue commercializing their technology.

“Programs like the SUNY Startup Summer School help to give our students the chance to be entrepreneurs and our faculty further opportunities to act as mentors and fund their own breakthrough research," said SUNY Interim Chancellor Deborah F. Stanley. “In the crucible of competition, great strides can be made, and we look forward to seeing what these bright and inspiring minds create or solve next. My congratulations to this year's winners—LiBAMA and SupreMEtric—and to all the participants who made this year's competition an enriching learning experience for all.”

"We at UAlbany are committed to bringing our transformational scientific discoveries to market,” said UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez. “That is why we could not be more proud of our winning team — and the entrepreneurial spirit and research excellence that Alexis and Professor Lednev's work represents. It was also an honor to host the S4 Demo Day at our new ETEC facility, which embodies UAlbany's commitment to collaborations between academia and the start-up enterprise.”

All S4 participating teams will continue to receive coaching and mentoring from SUNY Venture Advisors, successful entrepreneurs and seasoned executives, to support additional business development and commercialization in the coming months.

The second UAlbany team to present was omniRNA, a startup based in the lab of Associate Professor of Chemistry and RNA Researcher Jia Sheng. UAlbany PhD student Zhihua Cheng presented for omniRNA.

Other S4 2022 participants from UAlbany include Yvonne Dadson, Ivana Alexandrova, Dylan Bedord, Douglas Conklin, Nathan Gillespie, Denis Gonick, Christian Herasimtschuk, Fiona Hernandez, Jobayer Hossain, Tao Jiang, Johnsi Mathivanan, Mary Moller, Jabrea Robinson, Jeannette Sutton, Patrico Tyrell, Fan Yang and Zidi Zhu.