A faster and more effective flu testing device may be available in the coming days. The researchers who have been working on the project appear to have been motivated by the devastating spread of H1N1 flu virus in more than 200 countries in 2009. One of the reasons for ineffective control of the disease has been cited as incorrect diagnosis.
The most popular diagnostic tool for flu is the RT-PCR. However, this too is not completely accurate in giving results. There were a number of cases where the RT-PCR confirmed a negative result, but later on it was discovered that the patient had been infected by the H1N1 flu virus. In addition, the RT-PCR test takes several hours before a satisfactory result could be obtained.
The Benefits of the Microfluidic Slide
To overcome these problems, researchers at the Boston University and Harvard University have come together to collaborate on developing a microfluidic chip that can be used as a more reliable and efficient substitute to the RT-PCR test. The chip that has been developed is no larger than a typical microscopic slide. It has been developed for one-time use and can be disposed after single use.
Microfluidic Slide & RT-PCR
This makes it more effective than the RT-PCR because the RT-PCR is used to diagnose several patients, which may lead to contamination from one patient to another. In this regard, the microfluidic chip is much safer, especially during an outbreak. To make it economically feasible, the chip only costs $10, which is a reasonable amount. It also takes a very little amount of time for the chip to produce results. Within a few hours of administering the test, the chip provides results that are more accurate than most other flu tests.
Results of the Study
The researchers developed studies where 146 patients were tested on the new chip sized diagnostic test. The study was conducted over a period of four years and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Working of Microfluidic Chip
The new microfluidic chip works in three stages. The first stage takes place in the upper chamber of the chip where RNA is extracted from the proteins of the flu virus. The second stage involves the conversion of the RNA into DNA. This process takes place in the middle chamber of the chip. Finally, the third step involves the replication of the DNA to yield a sample that is sufficient enough to be tested. This step takes place in the lower chamber of the chip.
Tests have also shown that the chip is a more effective tool than the traditional method of developing cultures of the virus for testing. This method takes up to a week before results are obtained. In addition, the rapid immunoassays technique and the DFA method were also found to be less effective than the microfluidic chip.
Research is also underway to develop a chip that is even faster and costs only half of the current price.