Monday, November 28, 2005

"SECURITY: CMOS chip slashes time needed to ID flu strains"

CombiMatrix Corp. fabricated a smart CMOS chip for influenza identification that addresses a central criterion for containment of a potential pandemic: timeliness. The company says its microarray can be updated for new flu strains in less than 24 hours and can identify any known flu strain in as little as four hours, without requiring skilled technicians to operate it. The chip's CMOS format can electronically identify the binding events that represent a match between a sample of DNA and the DNA from a flu strain found in the body. An array of electrodes that are organized like memory cells in an SRAM determines where a binding event has occurred, eliminating the need for the fluorescent tags and optical scanners used with other methods. Current influenza identification tests require batch operations that must be run overnight. The conventional flu chips use dumb plastic or glass substrates that require skilled technicians to inspect the microarrays visually. And labs can't update the chips for new flu strains without waiting 18 months for Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Laboratories with CombiMatrix chips in stock can repopulate them with any new DNA sequences they desire, literally overnight. By using CombiMatrix's desktop DNA synthesizer, any certified laboratory can populate the microarrays inside the CMOS chips with any predetermined DNA sequence. CombiMatrix's CMOS flu chips are disposable and can be ordered preloaded to identify DNA sequences for up to 12,000 strains of influenza. A forthcoming electrochemical detection system for the CombiMatrix chips will be packaged in a portable battery-operated unit. The array can be used as an adjunct to existing technology, to type difficult or ambiguous samples of flu or to study genetic drift in a flu strain as it migrates through a population. The system can process samples from animals as well as humans.