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Harvard Grants Non-Profit Firm Rights to Low-Cost Microfluidic Dx Technology

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This story originally ran on Feb. 23.

Harvard University has granted the exclusive rights to certain diagnostic technologies to a not-for-profit firm founded to make lab-on-a-chip tests available to developing nations at low cost or for free.

The agreement gives the company, Diagnostics For All, the rights to microfluidic technologies developed in the laboratory of George Whitesides, a professor of chemistry at Harvard and co-founder of DFA.

The first application of the technology, which is for the detection of proteins, is a low-cost, paper-based point-of-care device for measuring liver function. The device is "critical for monitoring the adverse side effects of the powerful drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS and TB, and for managing the effects of viral hepatitis in the developing world settings outside the reach of urban hospitals or laboratories," DFA said in a statement.

The technology can be used for any body fluid and under discussion is the development of a test to diagnose common childhood diseases such as malaria, rotavirus, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, flu, and schistosomiasis, said Jeffrey Krasner, a spokesman for DFA. The plan is to develop tests for several or all of the diseases on a single diagnostic chip.

“Our mission is to improve public health and save lives in the developing world through the development of groundbreaking diagnostic devices that are inexpensive and specifically designed for resource-poor settings," Una Ryan, president and CEO of DFA, said. "Our simple-to-use paper-based diagnostics will enable more effective treatment of those in need.”

DFA was founded in the summer of 2008 by Whitesides and Hayat Sindi, a visiting scholar at Harvard, with the express purpose of bringing the technology developed by Whitesides to countries that have limited access to complex laboratory diagnostic equipment [See PM 07/11/08].

The technology is a paper-based microfluidic chip about the size of a postage stamp and pre-treated with reagents for color-based or electrochemical assays. The paper is patterned with hydrophobic polymers. Channels guide a fluid sample to the pre-treated regions of the chip, and depending on changes observed, a disease diagnosis can be made.

Because the chips are made of paper, they cost as little as one cent and results can be "readily" transmitted by cell phone to central laboratories.

The test for measuring liver function is being developed in part with a grant to Harvard from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We established DFA as a non-profit organization so that it could pursue its mission of developing diagnostic devices for the underserved populations of the world, free of the pressures inherent in for-profit organizations to deploy resources to maximize shareholder returns,” Whitesides said. "I’m delighted to see this technology being targeted to those in greatest need in the developing world.”

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