Chip tracks down bird flu in two hours

STMicroelectronics and local medical diagnostics research company Veredus Laboratories have launched a chip capable of detecting and identifying major types of influenza within two hours, including the H5N1 avian flu strain.

STMicroelectronics and medical diagnostics research company Veredus Laboratories have launched a chip capable of detecting and identifying major types of influenza within two hours, including the H5N1 avian flu strain.

The new VereFlu chip combines two existing molecular tests — Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and microarray — a "world first", according to Veredus CEO Dr Rosemary Tan. The integration of the two current testing technologies into a single test makes the detection "very sensitive and accurate", she said.

VereFlu is designed to detect Influenza types A and B, of which the former is an avian virus that has crossed over into mammals. Dr Tan noted that there are currently many different strains of Influenza A, with mutations constantly taking place. Worldwide, those that die from flu average between 250,000 and 500,000 a year.

"It's a challenge to know which strain will be the next pandemic strain, so it's essential to have a test to quickly detect and have knowledge of what type of flu [exists] in a short time," she pointed out.

Apart from the VereFlu chip, other components in the testing set-up known as the ST In-Check Platform include a Thermal Control System, optical reader and ST In-Check software to generate reports and complete analysis. The microarray panel can also be updated with DNA sequences of new mutations.

The cost of the VereFlu test is comparable with other existing tests in the market, Dr Tan said, but she declined to give specifics. It is understood that a single PCR test is priced around US$72, including specialised labour costs for testing.