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PolyU develops new pathogen-detecting system

Image Credits: HK PolyU, Press Release

Infectious diseases represent an important portion of global public health concerns¸ in particular with regard to the current global outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The challenge of frontline diagnosis in hospitals, clinics and ports is that infectious diseases could exhibit similar symptoms or can be asymptomatic.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently announced the development of the world’s most comprehensive automated multiplex diagnostic system (the System) which includes a fully automated machine and a multiplex full-screening panel for the point-of-care genetic testing (POCT) of respiratory infectious disease including the 2019-nCoV.

In one single test and within approximately one hour, the System can identify 30 to 40 pathogens including seasonal influenza viruses, such as influenza A subtypes H1, H2 and H3, avian influenza viruses H5, H7 and H9, human respiratory syncytial virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and 2019-nCoV.

Leveraging the current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, the system is fully automated from sample nucleic acid extraction and amplification, to signal detection and analysis. The System adopts patent-pending microfluidic and biochemical technologies that achieve ultra-sensitive detection (down to 5 gene copies) and simultaneous differentiation of various pathogens with extremely high specificity. It is also user-friendly, with manual handling not being required throughout the testing process.

It was noted that the early and accurate detection of pathogens could contribute to effective and efficient disease control and management, and prevent spreading of any contagious pathogens.

It benefits the patients as well because timely therapy can then be applied to prevent complications. The existing challenge is that there is a lack of full panel POCT technologies for early and on-site diagnosis, which should ideally be capable of differentiating between different pathogens at the same time.

This newly-developed system could be a practical solution.

The Vice President (Research Development), Deputy President and Provost designate of PolyU said that it is in this difficult and challenging time, it is important that the research community quickly pools their expertise and resources to develop practical solutions.

Through collaborative efforts, the team has spent the past four years to develop the system. In the past year, the team has optimised the System and conducted trials on different clinical samples.

In the midst of the 2019-nCoV outbreak, the team has also conducted tests on clinical samples using the system.

The solution’s versatility and capability will provide for comprehensive monitoring during disease outbreaks or routine surveillance. It will become a crucial technology for ensuring the effective control of infectious diseases, medical diagnosis, and treatment.

This fully automated, quantitative rapid diagnostic platform possesses a proprietary technology which overcomes limitations of existing technologies by ensuring sensitivity – and hence significantly enhancing the reliability of test results.

Most importantly, the innovation can substantially reduce the cost of the microfluidic cartridge manufacturing thus making it feasible for wide adoption. It is ready for mass-scale production.

The research team has received indispensable support from a local biotechnology company who stated that they are honoured to be able to participate in this project.

This advanced point-of-care diagnostic system is expected to revolutionize the current diagnostic paradigm and provide a powerful tool to fight against infectious diseases.

Humankind’s modern-day battles against epidemics remain a major challenge and it is vital that researchers keep learning from the past and equipping themselves with the best technologies available.

Towards this end, the research team will continue to urgently focus on developments to ensure the system’s robustness and cost-effectiveness, and to collaborate with relevant parties on clinical trials, regulatory approvals, and frontline applications of this POCT system.

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