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Motorola Targets DNA Diagnostics Market with Hand-held Device

KIRKLAND, Wa. Dec 8 – Showing a slide of a device that looked like a Palm Pilot, Motorola BioChips vice president Nicholas Naclerio outlined at a conference earlier this week his company’s plans to develop an application for home-based DNA testing.

The handheld device, which at present remains little more than a futuristic concept, will use Motorola biochips and biochip analysis systems to analyze DNA samples—from a cheek swab or a drop of blood— that a user feeds into the device, Naclerio said at GenomeWorks2000, a meeting of Genomics experts and journalists organized by Rosetta Inpharmatics.

“These point of care instruments will make genomic analysis available anywhere,” Naclerio said. ”There is no reason why they would not be available to the consumer by the end of the decade.”

Just as patients can now use oral thermometers to take their temperature and diabetics can use simple paper strips to measure their blood sugar, these devices could enable patients with common illnesses to discern whether they have a viral or bacterial infection based on viral DNA tests.

Motorola is not the only company developing hand-held genomics tools. Informax CEO Alex Tito mirov recently announced the establishment of RealTime Health, a company that aims to make genomics and bioinformatics tools for individual medical applications.

But this handheld instrument comprises only a part of Motorola Biochips’ strategy to aggressively target what it sees as a $10 billion-plus, low-density diagnostics end of the chip market.

The strategy is partly an effort to carve out a space in an increasingly crowded microarray market still dominated on the high-density end by Affymetrix.

“Affymetrix focuses on genome-wide applications” of microarrays, said Naclerio. “Our space is tens of thousands to tens of probes.”

Motorola’s other efforts in this area include its eSensor 4800, a bench-top system capable of reading 48 diagnostic chips; experimental microfluidics devices made of ceramics and plastic; and its cell-phone shaped biochip devices that combine microfluidics, arrays, and bio-electric detection.

The eSensor 4800, which Motorola unveiled in mid-November, is designed to read and analyze chips with 37 analytes after they are amplified with PCR technology. It aims to replace the labor-intensive process of gel electrophoresis with automated electro-detection methods.

Eventually, Motorola hopes to develop a similar device that would read whole blood samples and that could be inexpensive enough for any medical diagnostics lab to buy and operate. Currently, the 4800 prototype is in beta testing.

Motorola’s microfluidics devices are earlier on in the pipeline. The multiplayer ceramics microfluidics device uses the same ceramics material in mobile communications devices. These ceramic heaters are embedded in 4 by 4 reaction wells. The advantage of these over other microfluidics devices, said Nacliero, is that they can use smaller amounts of reagents and can run cycles faster with less thermal energy.

Meanwhile, the company’s R&D arm is also developing simple plastic microfluidics devices the size of a dime that could be cheap to manufacture and easy to install in small hand-held diagnostics tools.

Just as a cell phone combines a number of technologies in a single small unit, the Motorola biochip will combine small microfluidics devices with arrays, and fit into a diagnostic devices.

“These things all have huge potential,” Naclerio said. “Which one is the killer app, we don’t know yet.”

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