August 30, 2014
1 min read

Scientists develop hand-held DNA sequencer for infectious diseases

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New Zealand researchers have developed a novel, hand-held DNA assay capable of detecting suspected viruses and bacteria, as well as the severity of infection, according to a news release.

The battery-powered device, which utilizes quantitative PCR technology, provides results within 1 hour, potentially allowing its user to determine the presence of a pathogen and the extent of infection in samples while remaining at the site of an outbreak.

Jo-Ann Stanton, PhD, of the University of Otago, and a multidisciplinary team at the department of anatomy, collaborated on the 6-year project, which was sponsored by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The device is approximately the same weight as a typical laptop and has a 6-hour battery life. It can be connected to a computer or operate wirelessly with mobile devices running custom software.

The device, dubbed “Freedom4,” was independently tested at the New Zealand Institute of Environmental and Scientific Research on a variety of infectious diseases, including gastrointestinal infections such as toxin-producing Escherichia coli and respiratory infections such as influenza A(H1N1). It was found to perform as well as laboratory-based DNA sequencing.

“We are immensely proud that we have created this brilliant device,” Stanton said in the release. “There is currently no other system in the world that compares in terms of the analytical power we have achieved at this level of mobility and ease of use.”

DNA diagnostic device "Freedom4" 

Figure 1. A hand-held, battery-powered DNA diagnostic device invented at the University of Otago was developed as a field tool for rapidly detecting suspected viruses or bacteria in samples while also determining the level of infection. The device, dubbed Freedom4, utilizes quantitative PCR to identify target DNA sequences in real-time, without the need for further processing.

Source: Sharron Bennett

With that type of mobility, Freedom4 is suited to a variety of other uses, including border security, forensics and environmental monitoring, according to the university.

Stanton said the device also could be utilized by farmers, who can make diagnoses and treat animals in a single setting.

The University of Otago’s commercialization arm, Otago Innovation, is partnering with the New Zealand company Ubiquitome to market the device.