Livermore researchers create lab on a chip

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Researchers believe a new device can help identify thousands of different viruses in a wound on the battlefield.

For American soldiers wounded in combat, identifying infections can mean the difference between life and death. Now, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Lab believe they can deliver that power to the battlefield and beyond.

It comes in the form of a tiny microarray, slightly larger than matchbox. The device is designed to identify thousands of different viruses and bacteria that might be present in a wound.

"The ability to really comprehensively look at what's in a wound is powerful. We don't have to say, 'OK, we want to look for, for example, MRSA or want to look for E.coli or we want to look for this or that.' We can say, we're going to look for everything," says researcher Nicholas Be, Ph.D.

The array can detect the signature of any bacteria or virus that's been previously sequenced, about 8,000 so far. Biologist Crystal Jaing, Ph.D., says that list includes potential threats unique to modern warfare, such as biological weapons.

"Because it is very comprehensive, it covers the DNA signatures for the known bio-threat agents as well, for example, Anthrax," she says.

In a recent trial, the array was able to flag previously undetected pathogens in about a third of the wound samples tested. Analyst John Allen, Ph.D. says high speed computer models can identify even tiny levels of bacteria before they grow into trouble.

"If something is at a low level that may be antibiotic resistant, if you treat the wound with antibiotic, it could very quickly change to become the dominant organism," says Allen.

The Livermore team believes the array could ensure U.S. soldiers receive the right treatments quicker, to ensure the wounds they've suffered in battle heal faster and more efficiently.

Jaing said the array can "help the physicians help develop a better treatment strategy to really allow us to develop more of a personalized medicine for the soldiers to heal better."

With current technologies, the system can analyze a sample, and provide an answer in just 24 hours.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
Related Topics:
healthsoldierswarlawrence livermore labLivermore
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