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UVA LVG Seed Fund invests in UVA alumnus-founded company, Ceres Nanosciences

Each year, an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the United States. Lyme disease can cause joint pain, fatigue, and muscle stiffness, and can lead to devastating neurological problems. Nonspecific symptoms make diagnosing Lyme disease a challenge, and current blood tests identify antibodies that usually don’t appear until weeks after the infection.

UVA alumnus, Ross Dunlap, is the CEO and co-founder of Ceres Nanosciences (Ceres), which has developed a first-of-its kind, highly sensitive, urine-based test capable of detecting Lyme disease in a patient. Ceres has been offering this test out of a clinical laboratory since 2015, and is now developing a new point-of-care version that can be used in a doctor’s office to obtain immediate results. 

The company recently closed a funding round with support from the UVA Licensing & Ventures Group Seed Fund, GreyBird Ventures, Bay Area Lyme Foundation, and Pactolus Ventures. The investment will advance the point-of-care version of the Lyme test toward manufacturing and analytical performance testing this year, followed by submission for FDA approval in 2019. On July 12, Ceres announced that it has received Breakthrough Device designation from the FDA for their Nanotrap® Lyme Antigen Test System, which will accelerate the overall approval process.

“The Ceres Nanotrap® technology is unique, versatile, and offers significant advantages in concentrating low abundance biomarkers,” says Bob Creeden, Managing Director of the UVA LVG Seed Fund & New Ventures. “Ross has shown strong leadership, and we are confident in his team, which now comprises five UVA alumni, to advance their diagnostic test toward the market. We are thrilled to add Ceres as the first UVA alumni company to our growing portfolio.”

Ceres’ Nanotrap® Lyme Antigen Test, based on technology invented at George Mason University, pinpoints a specific protein that is present at all stages of infection, concentrates it from the patients’ urine, and through a standard immunoassay, determines the presence of the protein. Ceres hopes that this approach will enable an FDA-approved test that could deliver an accurate diagnosis directly to a patient while they wait in their doctor’s office. This suggests a major upgrade from the current two-tiered blood tests. “Patients and physicians are eager for a better test, and this new test is going to make a big impact,” said Robbie Barbero, Ph.D., Chief Business Officer of Ceres Nanosciences in the company’s press release.

Ross Dunlap graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce at UVA. At Ceres, Ross is joined by four other University of Virginia graduates, representing one third of the company’s 15 employees.  The company is privately held and is located in Prince William County, Virginia. Learn more about Ceres at