Nav: Home

Nano nod for lab on a chip

April 25, 2012

(Edmonton) You wouldn't know it from appearances, but a metal cube the size of a toaster, created at the University of Alberta, is capable of performing the same genetic tests as most fully equipped modern laboratories--and in a fraction of the time.

At its core is a small plastic chip developed with nanotechnology that holds the key to determining whether a patient is resistant to cancer drugs or has diseases like malaria. The chip can also pinpoint infectious diseases in a herd of cattle.

Talk about thinking outside the box.

Dubbed the Domino, the technology--developed by a U of A research team--has the potential to revolutionize point-of-care medicine. The innovation has also earned Aquila Diagnostic Systems, the Edmonton-based nano startup that licensed the technology, a shot at $175,000 as a finalist for the TEC NanoVenturePrize award.

"We're basically replacing millions of dollars of equipment that would be in a conventional, consolidated lab with something that costs pennies to produce and is field portable so you can take it where needed. That's where this technology shines," said Jason Acker, an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the U of A and chief technology officer with Aquila.

The Domino employs polymerase chain reaction technology used to amplify and detect targeted sequences of DNA, but in a miniaturized form that fits on a plastic chip the size of two postage stamps. The chip contains 20 gel posts--each the size of a pinhead--capable of identifying sequences of DNA with a single drop of blood.

Each post performs its own genetic test, meaning you can not only find out whether you have malaria, but also determine the type of malaria and whether your DNA makes you resistant to certain antimalarial drugs. It takes less than an hour to process one chip, making it possible to screen large populations in a short time.

"That's the real value proposition--being able to do multiple tests at the same time," Acker said, adding that the Domino has been used in several recently published studies, showing similar accuracy to centralized labs.

The Domino effect: Personalized medicine

The Domino was developed by a team led by Linda Pilarski, an experimental oncologist with the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and a former Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in biomedical nanotechnology.

In 2008, her team received $5 million over five years from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions to perfect and commercialize the technology. As an oncologist, Pilarski is interested in its pharmacogenomic testing capabilities, such as determining whether breast cancer patients are genetically disposed to resist certain drugs.

"With most cancers you want to treat the patient with the most effective therapeutic as possible," she said. "That's what this does: it really enables personalized medicine. It will be able to test every patient at the right time, right in their doctor's office. That's currently not feasible because it's too expensive."

Along with its versatility, two key selling points are affordability and portability, with each portable box expected to cost about $5,000 and each chip a few dollars, says Aquila president David Alton. It's also designed to be easy to use and rugged--important features for the livestock industry, the company's first target market. The Domino will be put through trials within a year at one of the country's largest feedlots in southern Alberta.

Alton credits Aquila's relationship with the U of A, not just for the research but for the business relationship with TEC Edmonton that has helped the company license and patent Domino. TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between the U of A and Edmonton Economic Development Corporation with resources and expertise to help startups in the early stages of operations.

"We see a huge potential market for the technology and we're looking at applying the technology developed here at the U of A to markets first in Alberta and then globally, to address important health issues here and throughout the world."
-end-
The 10th annual TEC VenturePrize Awards will be held April 26 in Edmonton.

University of Alberta

Related Malaria Articles:

Could there be a 'social vaccine' for malaria?
Malaria is a global killer and a world health concern.
Transgenic plants against malaria
Scientists have discovered a gene that allows to double the production of artemisinin in the Artemisia annua plant.
Fighting malaria through metabolism
EPFL scientists have fully modeled the metabolism of the deadliest malaria parasite.
Should we commit to eradicate malaria worldwide?
Should we commit to eradicate malaria worldwide, asks a debate article published by The BMJ today?
Investigational malaria vaccine shows considerable protection in adults in malaria season
An investigational malaria vaccine given intravenously was well-tolerated and protected a significant proportion of healthy adults against infection with Plasmodium falciparum malaria -- the deadliest form of the disease -- for the duration of the malaria season, according to new findings published in the Feb.
More Malaria News and Malaria Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...