Quicker Diagnosis of Infections with New Device

First Posted: Sep 08, 2015 11:39 AM EDT

A new diagnostic device has the ability to greatly reduce the amount of time needed to diagnose tissue infections, according to EurekAlert!.

The device, created by collaborative team of University of Arizona engineers and scientists, uses a new method of molecular diagnostics, called DOTS qPCR, which is faster, cheaper, and more efficient than the devices that clinics are currently using.

DOTS qPCR, which stands for droplet-on-thermocouple silhouette real-time PCR, relies on measurements of subtle surface tension changes at the interface of a water droplet suspended in an oil medium. The water droplet, which contains the target DNA to be copied for diagnosis, is moved along a heat gradient in the oil to begin the chain reaction. As more copies of the target DNA are produced, they move towards the oil-water interface, resulting in measurable changes in surface tension.

Remarkably, the size of the droplet can be measured using a smartphone camera, providing a method to observe the course of the reaction in real time, according to EurekAlert!.

The work is described in Science Advances.

"We have developed a completely different type of system than what exists out on the market," said Dustin Harshman, a scientist at Ventana Medical Systems. "We want to see physicians get diagnostic information more rapidly and prescribe better initial therapies."

These pathogens and infectious diseases are usually detected using polymerase chain reaction, also known as PCR. This is done by rapidly heating and cooling DNA molecules from a biological sample, a process called thermal cycling. This makes millions, or even billions, of copies of the target DNA, which Scientists and physicians can then use in order to identify the type of pathogen that's causing the infection.

The problem with PCR is that the testing process takes almost an hour, but physicians only have, on average, a 10 minute window to make decisions based on their diagnosis.

"With DOTS qPCR we are able to detect amplification and identify the infection after as few as 4 thermal cycles, while other methods are working with between 18 and 30," said Jeong-Yeol Yoon, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and a joint appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. "We can get from sample to answer in as little as 3 minutes and 30 seconds."

DOTS qPCR is also able to be applied in biological research, where PCR is an important tool used in many major types of research.

Ultimately, Harshman and Yoon hope the technology will transform the operations of hospital emergency rooms, where saving time to diagnosis translates into saving lives.

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