Lab-on-a-chip device offers early detection of avian flu

October 31, 2007 Researchers in Singapore have successfully developed a miniaturized device that can be used to detect the highly pathogenic avian flu (H5N1) virus. If successfully commercialized, this device could be deployed in affected regions to provide early detection and circumvent the occurrence of an avian flu epidemic.

The team responsible for the breakthrough is comprised of researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) and Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). According to project leader, IBN Research Scientist Dr Juergen Pipper, "With our device, medical or humanitarian aid workers would be able to detect the presence of the H5N1 virus directly from throat swab samples on-site in less than half an hour."

The device comprises a unique platform developed by IBN that uses magnetic force to manipulate individual droplets containing silica-coated magnetic particles. “The novelty of our method lies in the way that the droplet itself becomes a pump, valve, mixer, solid-phase extractor and real-time thermocycler. Complex biochemical tasks can thus be processed in a fashion similar to that of a traditional biological laboratory on a miniature scale,” explained Dr Pipper.

Avian influenza is now prominent in many regions throughout Asia. With early warning, a potential avian flu epidemic can be averted and could prevent the wide scale spread of the virus to humans. Tests have shown that this new platform is as sensitive as, and around 10 times faster than currently available tests, yet it could potentially be 40 to 100 times cheaper - a development that would no doubt be welcomed by governments and populations in affected regions.

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