STMicro chip quickly detects bird flu

Chip can screen and identify multiple classes of pathogens and genes in a single diagnostic test within two hours, compared with days or weeks.(From Reuters)

STMicroelectronics has developed a disposable chip to detect influenza viruses, including bird flu, in humans.

The device, which functions as a mini laboratory on a chip, can screen and identify multiple classes of pathogens and genes in a single diagnostic test within two hours, unlike other tests available on the market that can detect only one strain at a time and require days or weeks to obtain results.

The chip can differentiate human strains of the Influenza A and B viruses, drug-resistant strains and mutated variants, including the Avian Flu or H5N1 strain.

There have been 236 human deaths globally from the H5N1 strain, according to the World Health Organization, though it remains mainly a bird virus.

STMicro "sees new high growth opportunities in the health care market, especially in areas like patient care," Francois Guibert, STMicro's Asia Pacific chief executive, said at a briefing Monday in Singapore to mark the commercial launch.

The VereFlu Chip was developed by STMicro together with Singapore's privately held Veredus Laboratories after more than a year of research. The application underwent extensive evaluation trials at Singapore's National University Hospital last year.

It allows health workers to process and analyze patient samples --comprising human blood, serum, or respiratory swabs--on a single, disposable, thumbnail-sized microchip.

Guibert said revenue contributions from its biomedical chip business would remain "negligible" for at least another three to five years.

Veredus Chief Executive Rosemary Tan said the company had obtained "very promising" sales orders from hospitals and other customers, but declined to provide details.

One big potential market is the screening of travelers at airports and border checkpoints, Tan said.

Experts are monitoring the H5N1 virus for signs of mutation into a form easily transmitted from person to person, a development that could trigger a deadly pandemic. So far most human cases can be traced to contact with infected birds.

STMicro, which is Europe's top semiconductor maker, and Veredus have set up a joint laboratory in Singapore, where their experts will work on developing new biomedical applications using STMicro's chip platform for other infectious diseases, oncology, and heart-disease markers.

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