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The New Solution to Quickly Diagnosing the H1N1 Virus

Posted Jul 25 2012 4:17pm

Diagnosing H1N1 Flu faster and cheaper with the Microfluidic Chip

In 2009, the H1N1 Flu (or Swine Flu) pandemic spread to over 200 countries.

This novel influenza strain took the lives of more than 18,000 people across the world.

The subtype of Influenza A also caused the 1918 Flu Endemic which resulted in the deaths of about 100 million people. Because of its high mortality rates and fast incubation period, the need for timely diagnosis proved essential if not live-saving.

In 2009, Swine Flu was diagnosed with the use of the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction Assay or RT-PCR. Although this exam was the gold standard, the exam often took too long and sometimes showed false positive results.

Some point-of-care diagnostic kits were also used on the spot, and unfortunately they lacked sensitivity, which led to many erroneous diagnoses.

Realizing the need for a faster and easier way to diagnose the H1N1 strain, researchers from Harvard University, Boston University and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have developed a microfluidic cheap which can help physicians evaluate a patient in a short period of time.


Great things come in small packages

The chip, which was the objective of the four-year study, is a miniaturized version of the RT-PCR test and was tested on 146 clients. This disposable microscopic slide can be used in checking two types of nasal swabs efficiently and effectively just like the RT-PCR.

The microfluidic chip has a top column which recognizes the RNA from proteins associated with the influenza A virus. Its’ middle chamber will then convert the RNA to DNA, while the lower chamber replicates the DNA in a climate-controlled environment so it can be seen and detected by an external reader.



While the RT-PCR is very effective in diagnosing Swine Flu, this microfluidic chip has shown promise for efficient diagnosis.

What makes the microfluidic chip better than the RT-PCR is it’s disposable, which reduces the risk of cross-contamination. It can be easily discarded after use, which can prevent the further spread of the flu.

Its handy size also makes it easily transportable, so it can be used on site. RT-PCR makes use of fancy lab equipment and reagents which can’t be brought on site. It’s convenient for both the physician and the patients, because they don’t need to visit a hospital or a diagnostic center just to be tested.

Tests also show that it trumps other diagnostic tests used in confirming Influenza A.

Apart from the RT-PCR, exams such as viral cultures, direct fluorescent antigen (DFA) testing, and rapid immunoassays were utilized to diagnose a patient.

These tests were considered sub-par because the results of viral cultures can take a week, while DFA testing is very laborious.

Rapid immunoassays, on the other hand, only provide 40% reliability. The results can take a long time before they are released, and with Influenza A (and other conditions) time is of the essence in order for the proper treatments to be given promptly.

With the many advantages of this microfluidic chip, physicians will now be able to diagnose patients with Swine Flu faster, which will give them access to prompt treatments immediately.    


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