Public Release: 

Lab-on-chip testing for 'bird flu' developed by Singapore scientists

Research published in Nature Medicine

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

SINGAPORE, Sept. 23, 2007 - Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) and Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) have successfully developed a miniaturized device that can be used to detect the highly pathogenic avian flu (H5N1) virus.

If successfully commercialized, this device could be deployed in affected regions for pre-emptive surveillance of nascent avian flu epidemic.

According to project leader and lead author of the Nature Medicine publication, IBN Research Scientist Dr Juergen Pipper, "With our device, medical or humanitarian aid workers would be able to detect the presence of the H5N1 virus directly from throat swab samples on-site in less than half an hour."

With early warning, a potential avian flu epidemic can be averted. Avian influenza is now entrenched in Asia, with sporadic human infections resulting from either direct contact with infected birds or limited human-to-human transmission. Globalization and seasonal avian migration patterns have resulted in the disease spreading rapidly to other parts of the world.

The device comprises a unique platform developed by IBN that uses magnetic force to manipulate individual droplets containing silica-coated magnetic particles.

"The novelty of our method lies in the way that the droplet itself becomes a pump, valve, mixer, solid-phase extractor and real-time thermocycler. Complex biochemical tasks can thus be processed in a fashion similar to that of a traditional biological laboratory on a miniature scale," explained Dr Pipper.

The all-in-one droplet-based device is superior to commercially available solutions as it integrates the entire workflow of viral RNA isolation, purification, preconcentration, and detection.

Tests have shown that IBN's platform is as sensitive as, and around 10 times faster than available tests, yet it could potentially be 40 to 100 times cheaper. IMCB co-author, Masafumi Inoue, is also the leading inventor for the Avian Flu (H5N1) detection kit that is currently being used in hospitals.

He adds that, "We had been developing the H5N1 detection kits and thus accumulated technical knowledge like primers and cycling conditions for the PCR assay. We are very pleased to see that these techniques were an advantage in improving the development of the new platform."

GIS co-author, Dr Lisa Ng, who was a co-inventor in another Avian Flu (H5N1) detection kit using GIS' proprietary nucleic acid diagnostic primers, played a role in the initial designs of the PCR and Primers assays in this project.

"We have a long journey ahead of us in our battle against infectious diseases, and the current avian influenza outbreaks caused by influenza A (H5N1) underscore the importance of improving our preparedness for the next emerging or re-emerging infectious agent." said Dr Ng.

Asked about the collaborations with other institutes, Professor Jackie Ying, Executive Director of IBN affirmed that "IBN is delighted that Dr Juergen Pipper has initiated this multidisciplinary collaboration with our A*STAR sister institutes at the Biopolis. We are also pleased that two of our Youth Research Program attachment students have made substantial contribution to this project and are co-authors to this publication."

The unique lap-on-a-chip system developed by IBN can also be adapted for other infectious diseases such as SARS, HIV and hepatitis B, by extracting nucleic acids from other body fluids such as blood, urine or saliva.

"An increasing number of magnetic particle-based biochemical kits are commercially available to process cells, RNA, DNA and proteins. We envision that our droplet-based system will be an attractive diagnostic platform, especially for decentralized environmental, biological or medical testing," said Dr Pipper.

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This research is published in Nature Medicine (DOI: 10.1038/nm1634) in a paper titled "Catching bird flu in a droplet." Other IBN references on this subject include: Neuzil et al. Nucleic Acids Res. 2007, 34, e77 and Novak et al. Lab Chip 2007, 7, 27-29. IBN has filed 5 patent applications on this novel device.

About the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN):
http://www.ibn.a-star.edu.sg

The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Established in March 2003, the Institute's mission is to establish a broad knowledge base and conduct innovative research at the interface of bioengineering and nanotechnology. Positioned at the frontiers of engineering, IBN is focused on creating knowledge and cultivating talent to develop technology platforms that will spur the growth of new industries. IBN also fosters an exciting, multidisciplinary research environment for the training of students and young researchers to spearhead biomedical advancement in Singapore.

IBN's Youth Research Program: IBN runs a very active Youth Research Program (YRP) to introduce its cutting-edge scientific research to students and teachers, in an effort to inspire more young Singaporeans to pursue careers in the biomedical sciences industry. The YRP features activities such as career talks, open houses, workshops and research attachments for students and teachers from secondary to tertiary levels. Since its launch in October 2003, over 19,100 students and teachers from 171 schools have participated in the YRP.

More information on IBN's Youth Research Program is available at yrp.ibn.a-star.edu.sg

For media queries and interview requests, please contact:
Nidyah Sani
Tel: 65-6824-7005
Email: nidyah@ibn.a-star.edu.sg

Lydia Sum
Tel: 65-6824-7022
Email: clsum@ibn.a-star.edu.sg

About the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB):
http://www.imcb.a-star.edu.sg

The Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) is a member of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). It is a world-class research institute in biomedical sciences with core strengths in cell cycle, cell signaling, cell death, cell motility, protein trafficking, developmental biology, genomics, structural biology, and infectious diseases. Its achievements include leading an international consortium that successfully sequenced the pufferfish (Fugu) genome. The IMCB was awarded the Nikkei Prize 2000 for Technological Innovation in recognition of its growth into a leading international research centre and its collaboration with industry and research institutes worldwide. Established in 1987, the Institute currently has 40 independent research groups with more than 500 staff members.

For more information, please contact:
Joshua Woo
Tel: 65-6586-9771
Email: woohk@imcb.a-star.edu.sg

Koh Pei Wen
Tel: 65-6586-9780
Email: pwkoh@imcb.a-star.edu.sg

About the Genome Institute of Singapore:
www.gis.a-star.edu.sg

The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is a member of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Established in 2001, the research institute's mission is to be a world-class genomics institute and a centre for genomic discovery. GIS pursues the integration of technology, genetics and biology towards the goal of individualized medicine. The genomics infrastructure at GIS is utilized to train new scientific talent, to act as a bridge between academic and industrial research, and explore scientific questions of high impact.

Winnie Serah Lim
Tel: 65-6478-8013 or 65-9730-7884
Email: limcp2@gis.a-star.edu.sg

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