Nobody can disagree that the hottest topic these days is the possibility of avian flu pandemic among humans. Well, good news people: researchers from University of Colorado at Boulder invented a new and fascinating method of characterizing flu subtypes, which gets the job done within 11 hours, in contrast to currently employed methods which take about four days. This means that in the case of avian flu pandemic, doctors would know sooner the type of flu virus their patient is carrying, and could administer antiviral drugs sooner to lessen the severity of the illness.
The press release:
Tests last month on the new technology by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta showed the CU-Boulder Flu Chip can determine the genetic make-up of types and subtypes of the flu virus in about 11 hours, said CU-Boulder Professor Kathy Rowlen of the chemistry and biochemistry department. Current methods for characterizing flu subtypes infecting patients take about four days.
The Flu Chip is expected to be in wide use in laboratories within a year, said Rowlen, who has led the two-year CU-Boulder research effort.
“This new technology should help provide better global influenza surveillance by making it easier for more laboratories to swiftly identify severe flu strains, which in turn may aid health officials to stem potential flu epidemics and even pandemics,” Rowlen said.
The chip, which can be configured to test for all known flu virus strains as well as new variant strains, was evaluated for three primary subtypes of flu in the October CDC test — the avian flu strain H5N1, and two of the most common human flu types worldwide in recent winters, H1N1 and H3N2. The chip was more than 90 percent accurate and will be tested again “side by side” with standard flu-virus culturing methods for accuracy and speed at the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters next month.
The Flu Chip fits on a microscope slide and contains an array of microscopic spots, Rowlen said. Genetic bits of information that are complimentary to known, individual influenza strains are “spotted” robotically in an array, where each row of three spots contains a specific sequence of “capture” DNA. Each spot is approximately one-hundredth of an inch in diameter. The microarray is then immersed in a wash of influenza gene fragments obtained from the fluid of an infected individual.
RNA fragments from the infected fluid bind to specific DNA segments on the microarray like a key in a lock, indicating both a match and that the virus signature is present, she said. The captured RNA is then labeled with another complimentary sequence that also contains a fluorescent dye, and such “hits” light up like a pinball machine when the chip is inserted into a laser scanner.
The Flu Chip also should be able to recognize mutations that might occur in avian flu H5N1, which has been spreading rapidly from bird to bird in Asia, Russia and parts of Europe, said Kuchta. While the avian virus does not now spread effectively from person to person, world health officials are fearful the strain will mutate and become transmittable between humans, possibly triggering a worldwide pandemic.
Rowlen said that within a few years, the technology could be downsized to fit into a hand-held portable device the size of a cell phone or PDA and taken into remote areas around the world to test for lethal strains of flu.
“We can make it small and simple enough to take into rural areas in places like the Congo, Cambodia or Indonesia that may lack lab facilities,” she said. “One of our goals has been to address the needs of developing nations by providing an inexpensive, field-portable test kit for respiratory illnesses to the World Health Organization for global screening of respiratory illness.”
Read more at University of Colorado at Boulder…