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MSU Team Publishes Study on iPod-Operated Point-of-Care DNA Testing Platform

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A Michigan State University team has published a paper demonstrating the use of an iPod Touch to operate a handheld, isothermal amplification-based genetic testing platform.

The team said that the advance represents a significant step toward truly inexpensive and compact tools for point-of-care genetic testing.

In September, Syed Hashsham, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and microbial ecology at MSU, discussed details of his team's testing platform with PCR Insider.

Called Gene-Z, the platform started out several years ago as a handheld nucleic acid analysis platform for identifying pathogens in water. After that market didn't pan out, the team began exploring other application areas such as cancer biomarker detection and infectious disease testing, particularly for the developing world.

Gene-Z is a handheld, battery-operated device that uses microfluidic consumable chips with anywhere from 64 to 1,536 1-mL wells. The platform uses a proprietary quantitative isothermal amplification method to detect DNA, RNA, and microRNAs in 10 to 30 minutes. The team has speculated that the device could sell for less than $1,000 with consumable chips costing $2 to $20, depending on the density and application.

In a paper published last month in Lab on a Chip, Hashsham and colleagues demonstrated a Gene-Z prototype using a disposable, valveless, polymer microfluidic chip containing four arrays of 15 reaction wells each with dehydrated primers for isothermal amplification. The prototype enabled simultaneous analysis of four samples, each for multiple genetic markers, and required only a single pipetting step per sample for dispensing.

"The ability to carry out multiplexed genetic testing and wireless connectivity are emerging as key attributes of future POC devices," the researchers wrote in their paper. As such, they developed software for Gene-Z that allows it to be operated with an iPod Touch or Android Tablet, both of which also work to receive data and carry out automated analysis and reporting via a WiFi interface.

In their most recent study, the researchers presented data demonstrating that the device had a high degree of sensitivity and reproducibility when used to detect genomic DNA from Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

One particularly notable feature of the Gene-Z is its ability to measure isothermal amplification of nucleic acids in real time, thus allowing the same type of quantitative measurements enabled by real-time PCR, but at a much lower cost and in a much shorter amount of time. The group believes that its platform would be the first to accomplish this feat.

Hashshem said in September that the group is seeking industrial partners and potential collaborators for assay development on Gene-Z.

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