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New Device Paves Way for Fast, Accurate Flu Diagnosis

Results can be displayed on smartphone app or PC

Statistics indicate that, on average, adults over the age of 30 contract the influenza virus only twice in a decade –– but far more often identify a cold virus (commonly rhinovirus or coronavirus) as being the flu.

Accurately diagnosing a flu infection through testing can be a slow and cumbersome process, with current “rapid diagnosis” pathology tests requiring up to 48 hours to complete.

To be effective in reducing the severity of the viral infection, antiviral medications must be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Such early treatment is inhibited by the current diagnostic methods and timelines.

Nuclear scientists in Australia are working with an international team of university researchers and companies to help develop a new platform capable of rapidly diagnosing flu infections. The researchers have developed a platform that can diagnose influenza A, B, and C strains in as little as 5 minutes.

“What we are working towards is a platform that can be coupled to a portable electronic device, to provide a rapid and accurate diagnosis of influenza,” said investigator Dr. Anton Le Brun.

The rapid-diagnosis technology combines specialist protein biomarkers with advanced electronics in the form of a small biochip. When a patient’s sample is applied to the biochip, the presence of a disease antigen is translated into an electronic signal, which is converted into a test result and displayed on a smartphone app or personal computer.

“If physicians had a tool of this nature available during outbreaks of severe strains, they would have the ability to confidently and quickly prescribe antivirals to those who need them,” Le Brun said.

“Our lab work, which involves using nuclear research instruments, has so far shown us how to assemble the molecular platforms necessary to create such a device, and in principle how it works,” he added. “Our next steps are to convert our laboratory results into an accessible and reusable way for GPs to quickly test patients for evidence of the influenza virus as part of their treatment process.

“GPs have had access to rapid blood-sugar testing devices to help in the management of diabetes for many years. Our aim is to make the diagnosis and management of influenza just as simple a process.”

The development of a portable rapid-diagnostics device would significantly improve treatment outcomes and decrease disease complications in individuals with flu infections, the researchers said.

Source: ANSTO; April 14, 2015.

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