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Scientists develop chip that can identify 70,000 viruses

SCIENTISTS here have developed a new wonder chip that can identify 70,000 different viruses and bacteria in one go.
The Straits Times - April 15, 2013
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Scientists develop chip that can identify 70,000 viruses

SCIENTISTS here have developed a new wonder chip that can identify 70,000 different viruses and bacteria in one go.

Currently, a typical test can detect fewer than 50 pathogens, and each kit tends to be specific to certain groups.

"Usually, tests for infectious diseases are done one test at a time. Each test will cost between $20 and $200. If they are all negative, you will have spent all the money and still don't know what you've got," said Dr Christopher Wong, one of the scientists leading the project.

But with the credit card-sized PathChip, a pathogen can be identified for $450 in the laboratory and within 24 hours. This saves both money and the time it takes to diagnose a patient.

"So this chip is a change in paradigm because we hope doctors will be confident of just running one test and then being able to decide what to do," added Dr Wong, a Singaporean.

PathChip is the brainchild of Dr Wong and his collaborators, Dr Martin Hibberd, a Briton, and Hong Kong's Dr Ken Sung. The three are directors of PathGen DX, a commercial offshoot of the Genome Institute of Singapore.

Currently, the chip, which took 10 years to develop, is only commercially available for research use. But it is expected to be available for diagnostic purposes in two years, pending approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration and Singapore's Health Sciences Authority.

The idea for "a chip that can detect everything" was conceived as a result of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak, when Dr Wong was surprised that there was no test available for the new virus.

The chip makes use of an array of DNA probes to identify parts of the genome of the pathogen being tested. The information is then fed into a computer algorithm that identifies the pathogen using a special programme. PathChip can detect any pathogen whose genomes are available on public databases, such as HIV, different strains of bird flu and the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer. Its range will expand as the database and computer program are updated.

The PathChip will be unveiled at the Joint Conference of the Human Genome Meeting 2013 and the 21st International Congress of Genetics. It runs from today to next Thursday at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

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