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Microchip Flu Test Speeds Diagnosis, Pinpoints Origin
posted by admin on 29/08/06

Including the H5N1 avian-flu strain.

August 29, 2006

Scientists have developed a microchip-based test that could allow more laboratories to quickly diagnose and pinpoint the origin of flu viruses, including the H5N1 avian-flu strain.

The FluChip, as the new test is dubbed, successfully identified 72 influenza strains, including the H5N1 bug, in less than 12 hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC collaborated on the development of the chip with scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the research was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Many labs already have diagnostic tools to determine the type of an influenza virus within a few hours. In February, the Food and Drug Administration approved a diagnostic test that can rapidly determine whether a virus is of the H5 type that has proved deadly in poultry and some humans. But only a few high-security labs around the world have been able to do the detailed testing that can determine a virus' subtype -- such as H5N1 -- along with the geographic origin of an emerging virus and other genetic information, said Nancy Cox, chief of the CDC's influenza branch.

The new test could bring those capabilities to a larger number of labs, helping public-health officials to track emerging viruses more quickly and speeding research, government officials said.

"The ability to quickly and accurately identify strains of influenza would be invaluable to international flu surveillance efforts," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research. "This is an encouraging advance."

The CDC provided flu samples that the University of Colorado researchers used to develop and hone the FluChip. They included flu strains that infect humans, horses, birds and swine. To design the FluChip, the researchers used flu-genome-sequence databases from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, CDC, and information from the influenza genome-sequencing project supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Cox said it could be two years before the test is commercialized, and making it inexpensive enough for a large number of labs to afford will be important. "You would want to have it available to as many labs as possible," she said.

Write to Betsy McKay at

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