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Duke Genome Center Lands $20M DARPA Grant

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Duke University will use a $19.5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to design a portable molecular diagnostic device to detect upper respiratory viruses before the host shows symptoms.

The Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy (IGSP) plans to use the DARPA funds to work with collaborators at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Virginia, and the National Center for Genome Resources, Duke said today.

Duke plans to base the research on gene expression changes found in the first phase of the study which have been linked to the presence of rhinovirus, influenza A, and respiratory synctial virus. Scientists at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering have designed a prototype of a device that can "read" the genomic signatures of these infections, the school said.

Over the next two years of the study, the researchers will refine that probe and use it to further validate the genomic signature of infections by adding pathogens, such as seasonal H1N1.

Some of the research will involve human viral challenge studies that are ongoing at Retroscreen Virology in the UK, and may involve other studies in the US.

The study also will enroll between 500 and 800 Duke students living in close quarters in dorms, and will study the onset and spread of upper respiratory infections, including influenza, over an entire year.

"We expect to gather valuable data about the novel H1N1 virus from these studies," Geoffrey Ginsburg, director of the IGSP Center for Genomic Medicine, said in a statement.

"Presymptomatic detection of a cold or flu would be a significant advance in maintaining the health of our troops and will certainly be a breakthrough for the public’s health and well being, as well," he added.

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