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Israeli Firm Commercializes Cannabis Testing “Lab-on-a-desk”

By Alexander Beadle
Published: Aug 20, 2018   

Credit: GemmaCert YouTube Channel

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GemmaCert, an Israeli private biotechnology firm have announced the opening of a new funding round seeking an additional $6 million (US) to assist in commercializing their new cannabis analysis technology. The firm has secured just over $3 million in total funding since their launch in 2015, which has been used to create and test a table-top cannabis potency analyzer.

Created by GemmaCert’s interdisciplinary team of chemists, molecular biologists, biotechnologists, data scientists, and computer programmers, the GemmaCert analyzer is no larger than the average kitchen appliance but provides an elegantly simple and easy-to-use solution for the testing of cannabis material.

The analyzer is a hybrid testing machine which combines the use of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) technology with visual image analysis and machine learning to accurately characterize the cannabinoid content of a given cannabis sample. NIRS examines how the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum is emitted, absorbed, or scattered as it passes through a sample. It is also a Food and Drug Administration endorsed analysis technique for consumable products, so cannabis users can have full confidence that it is safe. 

As a result of utilizing NIRS as an analysis method, the potency testing is completely non-destructive and doesn’t require the use of any solvents or other harsh chemicals. It also means that it is not necessary to use a lengthy sample preparation process or have to deal with the disposal of hazardous waste after analyzing a sample.

Running analysis using the analyzer is a relatively simple process. Whole or ground cannabis flower or cannabis oil is loaded into the sample holder and placed into the body of the analyzer. After a few minutes of analysis, a composition and potency report on the sample is forwarded to the user’s smartphone via the GemmaCert app. The sample being analyzed can then be discharged from the sample holder, ready to be labeled and sold, or kept for personal use. From start to finish, it takes between 1-2 minutes to examine a sample using the GemmaCert analyzer. 

When compared to traditional testing methods, such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), the GemmaCert analyzer certainly has special benefits. HPLC testing commonly takes 30-45 minutes to run a single sample and requires operation by highly skilled laboratory technicians. It also destroys the sample which incurs extra expense on top of the large overhead expenses involved with purchasing, running and maintaining HPLC setups.

In terms of accuracy, when comparing a single HPLC measurement versus a single NIRS measurement, the HPLC will always be more accurate. However, statistical analyses carried out by a team of GemmaCert scientists concluded that even when an unrealistically poor accuracy is assumed, if the NIRS test is repeated on average 2.33 times, it is able to match the accuracy and reliability of a single HPLC measurement. After the cost and speed factors are taken into account, this still makes NIRS a much cheaper and faster technique for determining potency, though it should be noted that HPLC will provide further detail about cannabinoids other than THC and CBD. 

In an interview with PotNetwork, GemmaCert’s co-founder and CEO, Guy Setton, Ph.D., spoke about the benefits of his company's new analysis solution. 

“There is a need for a truly non-destructive, reliable, affordable and easy-to-use means to test cannabis potency, and do so with high frequency, which is precisely what GemmaCert offers,” Dr. Setton explained. “GemmaCert is designed for professionals along the legal cannabis supply chain seeking an affordable, reliable and easy-to-use solution for testing potency onsite. We’ve received orders from North and South America, Europe, Israel and even New Zealand.”

The successful commercialization of a table-top cannabis analyzer such as the GemmaCert could prove revolutionary for the cannabis testing industry, particularly for potency testing. The heterogeneity has been observed and confirmed in cannabis plants, where the flowers from the upper-third of the plant are more potent than those elsewhere in the plant. In some strains, this difference is so pronounced that the upper flowers can have close to twice the potency compared to those at the base of the plant. 

Under a traditional batch testing methodology, flowers are randomly sampled from a batch to determine the overall potency of the total batch. The chemically heterogeneous nature of cannabis plants can cause batch testing to give misleading results. As the GemmaCert analyzer is rapid and non-destructive, it could be possible to test all, or the majority, of the flowers being processed for labeling and distribution with no extra product loss or time wasted. This could ensure more accurate labeling of that better reflects cannabis flower composition for consumers at the point of sale.

“One cannot rule out class-action legal suits against improper product labeling,” Dr. Setton commented. “Therefore, as cannabis comes under greater regulatory scrutiny, labeling will naturally be held to the same or higher standards common to mainstream nutritional and health products. Understandably, accurate potency labeling will be a priority for retailers, if only for the reason of self-preservation.”

GemmaCert is currently shipping out its first orders for the landmark analyzer. The capital created from these early orders along with money brought in during this new funding round will be injected into the company’s ambitious plans. GemmaCert ultimately aims to engineer additional functionality for their analyzer, such as the ability to report the concentration of additional major cannabinoids and terpenes present in the sample, not just the THC and CBD content currently examined. In the long-term, the company hopes to infuse their technology into an automated potency screening and sorting solution that can be easily integrated into existing cannabis production infrastructure. 


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