New Biochip Technology Signals Revolution In Point-Of-Care Diagnosis

In short

Testing for infectious diseases in minutes rather than days is now a reality using new smartphone-based biosensor technology.


Infectious diseases like flu afflict millions of people every year, bringing misery to sufferers with a hard hitting virus that can rapidly sweep through populations and, in some cases whole continents, in a matter of weeks. Identifying and treating these diseases also has considerable cost implications for those responsible for delivering health protection services, while placing a further strain on often already overburdened healthcare systems, delaying treatment and endangering human lives.

Success in treating many infectious diseases lies in the speed of response – antiviral drugs are at their most effective within the first three days of the onset of symptoms. Consequently there is significant  value to medical staff in having easy-to-use, quick and reliable ways to test patients.  This applies whether they are in a local clinic, doctor’s surgery or a remote village hundreds of miles from the nearest healthcare facility.

Smartphone technology is an obvious part of the answer when coupled with the development of a new generation of highly advanced point of care testing and detection technologies. One such technological solution is a new mobile phone-enabled biosensor from medical device and diagnostic specialist OJ-Bio, a joint venture between the Newcastle(UK)-based biotechnology company Orla Protein Technologies Ltd and the Japan Radio Company (JRC).

In this unique collaboration, Orla provides the specialist biosensor materials that are combined with JRC’s advanced electronics capability to create a new ‘biochip’ technology platform.

Advantages of “near-patient” testing

The OJ Bio approach combines state-of-the-art technology, specialist biosensor materials and advanced electronics in a small hand-held device for the accurate detection of illnesses from patient-supplied samples. Small, compact and easy-to-transport from site-to-site, it has been created to allow medical staff to perform rapid near-patient testing without the need for complex or cumbersome equipment.

Importantly, the device can be used at the patient’s bedside or other point of care, such as a GP surgery or pharmacy, with the results being available within minutes and without samples being sent for laboratory analysis.

Recently, OJ-Bio completed a project in which the new biosensor was developed and then tested in collaboration with the health protection agency in Newcastle. This work has involved taking Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) chips and coating them with new protein technology oriented on the device surface to give highly specific responses when they come into contact with samples containing the disease concerned. The reaction that takes place is turned into an electronic signal which can be combined with a small reader to transmit and receive data.

The technology has already shown results, proving its ability to successfully detect three potent respiratory viruses much more quickly than current methods, notably the Influenza A and B viruses, common flu strains previously linked to some major epidemics, and Respiratory Synctyial Virus (RSV) – a major cause of coughs and chest infections.

During product research and development, the HPA collected nasal secretions, nose/throat swabs and nasal aspirates from patients and used these samples to test the capability of the OJ-Bio biosensor against the current benchmark polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method as well as alongside another commercially viable test. These proved that OJ-Bio’s nascent technology can provide results in around 10 minutes, had good levels of diagnostic sensitivity for the three test viruses and did not give false positives, showing 100% specificity even when other viral analytes were present.

The biochip allows the diagnostic device to analyse samples from the patient, with the results being displayed on a complementary hand held reading device such as a mobile phone. JRC’s expertise in wireless technology also means that the detection devices can be wireless enabled allowing connectivity to healthcare networks, opening the door for widespread global use in developing countries or remote areas of the world where medical facilities are limited.

Future use

The OJ Bio technology has so far effectively demonstrated the potential for a low cost tester which could revolutionise the speed of diagnosis and treatment, hitting the flu virus hard at its source and inhibiting its ability to spread.

However, the potential applications of this concept are far wider; at its core lies a versatile ‘biochip’ platform technology for rapid wireless immunodiagnostic testing which could be adapted for potential applications in point-of-care diagnostics for other infectious diseases such as HIV and periodontal gum disease, which also affect millions of people and cost billions in treatment programmes.

Looking to the future, OJ-Bio plans to embark on a programme that will involve new product design work and multi channel biochip development, alongside further investigation into the results reader and associated software needs. This work will involve extensive input from doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff and will lead to the development of a fully working device that can be used in extensive clinical trials.

Source: OJ Bio