The Leadglow Compound

“We weren’t actually trying to make a sensor for toxic lead in the beginning, but the results of seeking a component to an enzyme, lead to the development of a lead-sensitive compound, which we’ve called, Leadglow.” 

Dr. Partha Basu, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne University, was referring to an extremely selective compound he developed that detects lead in water. His patented technology uses fluorescent molecules with a receptor that binds to lead ions in solution.

Dr. Basu brought a product idea to the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for advice. He envisioned an affordable, field-portable, handheld device using a fluorometer to provide rapid, accurate results to the presence of lead; or possibly an inexpensive kit or detector to replace the notoriously inaccurate home test kits on the market.

Why was his product important? Toxic levels of lead are a community health issue. Lead can present various health problems, especially to the brains and nervous systems of children. Recently, the Consumer Products Safety Commission enacted rules for testing all children’s products. Lead detection currently requires expensive field equipment and time-consuming laboratory testing of samples.

The Leadglow compound can quantify less than 10 parts per billion of lead in a mixture containing other metal ions — more sensitive than the limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and accurate in the presence of other elements.

When Dr. Basu came to the SBDC, Innovation Works, an investor in seed-stage companies in the region, had approached him about funding further R&D. However, they wanted Dr. Basu to conduct a market feasibility study first.

The Duquesne University SBDC proposed a market feasibility study which would investigate the nature of the lead industry and issues that impact inspection, detection, analysis, and remediation of lead.

With the help of a student team, the consultants researched statistical data, government reports, trade, professional, and scientific articles, and industry studies. They also identified and evaluated competitive products and those in R&D.

The team developed a primary market research survey directed toward industrial hygienists and certified lead assessors nationwide.  The survey was sent to 1,194 industrial hygienists and certified lead assessors actively working with lead inspections with over an 8% return rate of return

The results of the study and primary research indicated that the professional market was very interested in a product providing quick, measurable results that was durable but easy to use with little or no training. The price should be no more expensive than a laptop computer. Ideally, the product should test not only water but other matrices, such as soil or dust. 

Dr. Basu was awarded a $25,000 grant to further the research and development of the Leadglow compound.