DNA SEQUENCING/LAB-ON-A-CHIP: Two of Scientific American's Top 10 ideas are biophotonics-based

Just about a year ago, in January 2013, an article in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News asked, "when will DNA sequencing fully expand from research tool to routine clinical use?" That question has begun to be answered by the FDA's approval in November 2013 for broad clinical use of Illumina's MiSeq Dx DNA sequencing system, which until now has been used for research only. The FDA approval promises to help realize the potential of personalized medicine, and in fact low-cost genetic-sequencing technology is one of Scientific American's top 10 "World Changing Ideas" of 2013. In her article "Genetic Cures for the Gut," writer Katherine Harmon Courage explains that genetic sequencing will enable the discovery of "intriguing approaches to tackling persistent diseases and improving our overall health."

The new field of metagenomics, that is, the study of large populations of microorganisms, is allowing understanding of microbe populations in healthy vs. diseased human digestive systems—understanding that promises new treatment options that involve manipulation of microbiota.

A fluorescence-based system, PharmaCheck determines in minutes whether a pill is safe
A fluorescence-based system, PharmaCheck determines in minutes whether a pill is safe.

Another one of the publication's 2013 top 10 world-changing ideas is embodied in Boston University's portable PharmaCheck device, a reliable, robust, and inexpensive drug-screening technology that provides accurate, quantitative measurement of active ingredients and performs dissolution testing. Pioneered in the lab of professor Muhammad Zaman, in association with international health professor Christopher Gill, MD, the device addresses the problem that at least 10–30% of medicines in resource-limited areas are counterfeit. As a result, millions of people receive inadequate treatment, and more than 100,000 die of preventable causes. In the Scientific American article "The End of Bad Meds," writer Daisy Yuhas explains that using PharmaCheck involves mixing a fluorescence-probe solution with a pill dissolved in water, and adding the mixture to a chip whose sensor reads the emission. The unit determines within minutes whether the pill is safe.

In 2012, Zaman was one of 12 recipients (chosen from more than 500 proposals) of a two-year, $250,000 innovation seed grant from Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, an internationally supported program that aims to stimulate innovative preventative and treatment methods to improve health outcomes for mothers and newborns. Working with CIMIT, the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (Boston, MA), the PharmaCheck project has since completed a business plan, identified key product requirement specifications, selected a development vendor, and is completing the prototype that will be utilized for field testing.

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