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  • Alumni Highlight: Erica Barnell from Geneoscopy
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Geneoscopy was founded on the belief that a noninvasive diagnostic test using human RNA biomarkers in stool samples would provide a screening alternative that could improve colorectal cancer screening compliance, facilitate early-stage detection of colorectal cancer neoplasms and reduce morbidity and mortality associated with the 2nd deadliest cancer in the United States and the 4th deadliest cancer worldwide. However, no methodology existed to reliably isolate and preserve human RNA from stool. Over the past two and a half years, Geneoscopy has developed a nucleic acid extraction method that amplifies the human signals and degrades bacterial noise in stool. This allows for sensitive extraction of human RNA that can be used as biomarkers to noninvasively evaluate gastrointestinal health. Geneoscopy has filed two utility patents to protect this technology and has leveraged it to develop five separate products including a multi-target RNA biomarker panel for the detection of precancerous lesions and colorectal cancer, a precision oncology test for the detection of colorectal cancer recurrence, a manual extraction kit for isolation of eukaryotic RNA, a diagnostic to distinguish gastrointestinal lymphoma from inflammatory bowel disease in cats, and a companion diagnostic for gastrointestinal disease. Geneoscopy has executed three clinical trials and tested over 400 patients with their diagnostic tests, and is expecting commercialization of its first diagnostic in 2018. Geneoscopy’s novel extraction method won them the Global Impact Award from Washington University.

Geneoscopy receiving Global Impact Award

Photo by Sid Hastings / WUSTL Photos

Here is a Q&A session with Erica Barnell: 

Q. How did Geneoscopy start? 

A. I developed the idea for the company on my first rotation in Barnes-Jewish Hospital after meeting a 52-year old woman who arrived at the hospital with Stage IV colorectal cancer. The woman had never been screened for colorectal cancer because she could not take time off work to have a colonoscopy. My previous research experience on the gastrointestinal biome inspired me to find a solution to this compliance problem and so I partnered with Andrew, my brother, given his background in healthcare as a Wharton MBA. Andrew and I had never envisioned starting a company together, but given our complementary skills, mutual passion for healthcare, and close friendship, we took the leap to start Geneoscopy in February 2015. Recognizing the need for an individual proficient in data analysis to advance their scientific research, Yiming Kang, a PhD Candidate in Computer Science at Washington University in St. Louis, joined Geneoscopy as the third co-founder to create the perfect trio.




Q. Can you tell us about your venture story within Sling Health? Were there any significant moments that helped you in your creation?

A. The true value of Sling Health is its ability to be broadly applied to every entrepreneur. The idea of a problem day, which is unique to Sling Health, allows many different types of individuals to come together to solve complex issues. At this event, some individuals have a full-fledged idea hoping to find the talent to execute; conversely, there are people who have no formal business training, but deep down they feel that burning desire to join the entrepreneurship community. I think it is the ultimate networking experience that is accessible and approachable for all individuals.


Co-Founders of Geneoscopy: Andrew Barnell, Erica Barnell, Yiming Kang (left to right)

Q.  What were some of the early stage challenges you faced? Do you have any suggestions or tips for the future teams?

A. Being an early stage company in healthcare, and especially being in diagnostics, it is difficult to find funding. Many investors shy away from diagnostics due to high fail rates, failure to adopt, and low returns. My biggest advice is find the need. If you develop a diagnostic that physicians are unwilling to prescribe then it will be a fruitless exercise. It costs no money at all to go to doctors and survey if they would use your product. You can learn a lot from asking your customers their preferences and building a product around their needs.




Q. What kept you up at night? What was the challenge? 

A. The biggest challenge is technological validation. When you conduct a research strategy as a graduate student, a negative research finding means a delay in graduation; as an entrepreneur, a negative finding means your company is over. I have learned that the best way to circumvent this is to create a technology platform whereby many products can be developed from the company's IP. For example, we are the only company that can successfully isolate eukaryotic RNA from stool. We have gradually applied this to multiple different research initiatives, all with substantial market sizes and varied time-to-market strategies. This has allowed us to diversify our company to the point where if one research initiative does not work, we can easily pivot.


Erica Barnell, Co-founder and CSO

Q. Where is Geneoscopy now?

A. We recently closed seed-funding in November 2017 to initiate clinical development of five products. The first is a colorectal screening test for asymptomatic detection of colorectal cancer (CRC) and precancerous change in individuals undergoing routine screening for CRC. The second is a precision oncology molecular diagnostic for asymptomatic recurrence of CRC for individuals diagnosed with stage II-IV colorectal cancer. The third is a companion diagnostic for immunoncology drugs to detect response to therapy during treatment. The fourth is a manual extraction kit to isolate eukaryotic RNA from stool. Finally, we are also developing a diagnostic for distinguishing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) from Gastrointestinal Lymphoma in cats and dogs.


You can follow Erica Barnell and Geneoscopy at




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