Dutch startup completes first prototype of fast virus detector due to launch in 2010

JUNE 5, 2009--Ostendum (Enschede, Netherlands), a startup spun out of MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology/University of Twente, has just completed the first prototype of a portable, ultra-sensitive device able to detect in just a few minutes whether someone is infected with a virus. The company expects to introduce the lab-on-a-chip biodetection system commercially in late 2010. In addition to viruses, the device is also able to pick up bacteria, molecular protein and molecular DNA.

With a sample of saliva, blood or another body fluid and a specific receptor (an antibody or other substance that binds with a target micro-organism or biological structure), the system is able to produce a reading. As an example, say Ostendum's leaders (Aurel Ymeti, R&D director; Alma Dudia, Senior Researcher; and Paul Nederkoorn, CEO), if they had access to swine flu antibodies, they would be able to highlight the presence of the virus within five minutes.

The device consists of two parts: a lab-on-a-chip microsystem and a portable detector. Antibodies specific to certain micro-organisms or types of micro-organisms are first immobilized onto the "measuring channels" on the chip (the output of which is compared with that of the chip's uncoated "reference channels"). Light from a laser is guided through the channels. Then blood or saliva sample is transported to the channels with the help of a fluid system. When a micro-organism such as a virus is present in the sample, it binds to the relevant antibody on the chip, and the interference pattern of the light changes. A CCD camera records this change--which is a "fingerprint" of any viruses present.

An accurate analysis of the change in the interference pattern also provides information about the quantity of virus particles that are specifically bound in a given channel on the chip, and this means the concentration of a micro-organism in a sample can be determined. The method is highly sensitive: Ostendum says it is possible to measure the binding of a single virus particle.

In addition to the prototype just completed, Ostendum is working on two others. The three prototypes are undergoing practical tests, in a collaboration involving the Laboratorium Microbiologie Twente Achterhoek and the Zwanenberg Food Group. On the basis of the test results, Ostendum will make further improvements to the design, and expects to have the first device ready for introduction to the marketplace in late 2010.

Ymeti demonstrated during his doctoral research in 2007 that the principle behind the detector worked. At the time, he used a fairly sizeable laboratory set-up. The Ostendum company was subsequently founded, in 2008, in order to develop the principle into a marketable product.

For more information, follow Ostendum's website as it develops.

Posted by Barbara G. Goode, barbarag@pennwell.com, for BioOptics World.

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