Avian flu virus detector on a chip

12 June 2006

Gaithersburg, Md., USA. Biotechnology research and development company BioWarn, LLC, has combined biochemistry with silicon chip technology to produce a sensor that can detect pathogens and other materials using a molecular identity checking system and automatically transmit the results.

The company has announced that it has successfully demonstrated the capability to instantaneously detect avian influenza virus (H5N1), also known as bird flu, using its new SmartSense system.

Avian influenza is a viral disease that is spreading through bird populations across Asia, Africa, and Europe. The disease is of great concern because if the virus develops the capacity for human-to-human transmission, it could spread quickly around the globe.

Unlike other diagnostic and sensor technologies that take between 20 minutes and 20 hours to work, a SmartSense detector is a real-time sensor. It uses a microchip to capture the electronic "signature" produced when the avian flu (H5N1) surface contacts the sensor. Like a lock and key, this SmartSense detector is triggered only by the H5N1 target. The detector then automatically transmits the identifying information to users.

"Today, there are more unseen and dangerous threats to our health than ever before. Detecting avian flu using BioWarn's SmartSense system is a major breakthrough," said Dr. James P. Wade, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of BioWarn. "Using SmartSense, an outbreak of human avian flu can be detected and isolated in its early stages so that prevention, vaccines, and treatment can immediately be administered."

"While current techniques require additional processing, SmartSense detection is direct, positive, and binary, providing a real-time indication of the presence of a virus such as avian flu on a molecular level," added Dr. Jeffrey Riggs, President and Chief Operating Officer of BioWarn. "The SmartSense system instantaneously detects unique interaction signatures with extremely high reliability, and then wirelessly transmits the information to the necessary officials."

The SmartSense system has several advantages over current technologies. It is substantially less susceptible to false-positive and false-negative results than conventional diagnostics. Using extremely small samples, the system does not require lab equipment, a lab technician, or special procedures. A SmartSense device makes remote monitoring possible from anywhere a network reaches because it has on-board power and integrated network communications.

Because a fully developed SmartSense device will carry all core functionality on a single microelectronic chip, it will benefit from the scale economies of semiconductor manufacturing. With this affordability the SmartSense system brings advanced pathogen detection into the reach of those who need it the most, such as healthcare, biodefense, and first-responder organizations.

The company has also announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has approved for issuance its patent application for the SmartSense system. The patent covers key features of the system, including the integration of biochemistry and microelectronics to provide real-time alerts to the presence of pathogens. In addition to the H5N1 strain of avian flu, potential targets include HIV; tuberculosis; hospital-acquired infectious agents like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), or E. coli; bio-terror agents such as anthrax or smallpox; or any biomolecule that can bind to a SmartSense detector.

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