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Future Technology - Zukunftstechnologie
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Rapid and effective diagnosis of infectious diseases

 

The EU funded Optolab Card project is developing and mass producing a miniaturised optical laboratory on a card, allowing bacterial infectious diseases to be diagnosed in just 15 minutes. The new device is expected to reach the market in six years.

The impact and spread of new pathogens is growing dramatically due to the increase in worldwide human mobility, in combination with trade in livestock, and food products. By the time the conventional tests have been completed (between 6 and 48 hours) an entire community or a large part of a population may have been exposed to the pathogen in question.

Optolab Card participants hope to apply advances in micro electronic mechanical systems (MEMS) to this field. Although the last decade witnessed incredible developments in microfabrication processes, few of these have been transferred successfully into real biological applications because of the difficulty of reliable mass-production. Consequently, the availability of rapid diagnostic devices remains very scarce.

Optolab Card is a specific targeted research project (STREP) supported with 3.2 million euro under a joint call of the information society technologies (IST) and the nanotechnologies and nano-sciences (NMP) priorities of the Sixth Framework Program (FP6).

Led by the Spanish Technological Research Centre Ikerlan, the consortium spans research centres and companies from Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Poland. The project, launched last summer, will last for three years, but it will take almost twice as long to get the new device onto the market.

The instrument consists of a hand held base unit and a small disposable cartridge, or labcard, which automatically carries out a retro transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, from sample preparation to an optical detection. The labcard, made of a light sensitive material used in processes such as photolithography and photoengraving, contains all the disposable components, while the base unit incorporates all the electronics and optics.

The optical laboratory will initially be designed to detect salmonella, the pathogen with the highest incidence rate in the EU (40.7 people out of every 100,000 inhabitants). However, the diagnosis capability of the new device is very varied as it will be capable of detecting and distinguishing different DNA chains and could be, therefore, adapted to detect other infectious diseases like flu, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.

The great advantage of the Optolab Card is that it is the first system designed to provide, in just 15 minutes, a reliable diagnosis of an infectious disease. The card could also improve the quality of health care systems, as it is expected to reduce hospital admissions, the time spent in hospital and the costs relating to diagnosis. In addition, the application of the device will have an impact on the reduction of infectious diseases, which will provide governments with an approved tool which can be used for research into the possible sources of pathogenic contamination.

Future applications of the laboratory card may include devices for genetic diagnosis of degenerative or genetic disorders, paternity tests, forensic medicine and environmental monitoring.

For further information (in Spanish), please visit:
http://www.ikerlan.es/


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