In order to aid with disease diagnosis in remote places, researchers at Boston University have built a prototype pump device to separate DNA out of a sample of blood. The SNAP (System for Nucleic Acid Preparation) is powered by a bicycle-like pump and may one day make it easy for local clinicians to separate, bottle, and ship a sample to a clinic with sequencing technology for analysis.
The conventional method of extracting DNA from blood involves a number of instruments: researchers first break open blood cell walls, either with chemicals or by shaking the blood, in order to get at genetic material inside cells. They then add a detergent to wash away the fatty cell walls, and spin the DNA out of solution with a centrifuge. The SNAP prototype performs a similar series of events with a bicycle pump, some simple chemicals, and a specialized straw lined with a polymer designed to attract and bind DNA.
A clinician first takes a fluid sample, such as blood or saliva from a patient, and injects it into the disposable straw within the device. A large cap on the device contains two small packets: a lysis buffer and an ethanol wash. Pressure from the pump releases the lysis buffer, which breaks open cells in the fluid, releasing DNA. A second pump of air releases ethanol, which washes out everything but the DNA.
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