Device tracks and delivers virus count in minutes

October 29th, 2008 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Oct 29 (IANS) You may be ingesting dangerous nano-particles emitted by a car and billions of viruses might be infesting your system especially if you have a virulent infection.qViro is a revolutionary invention that offers the potential to quickly and cheaply answer these questions. The coffee grinder sized, portable desk top instrument can count the number of viruses in a sample in minutes, powered by a computer drive.

Its washing machine sized competitors may take days to get a result, or cost more than $50,000. Slated for commercial release by April, qViro will cost about $10,000 according to Paul Atkins, Australo company’s director of external relations.

The device measures single biological molecules by pulling them through a small adjustable hole or nanopore - just a few millionths of a millimetre wide. As each molecule passes through it temporarily blocks the hole and changes the electrical environment.

“For example, we can adjust it to count the number of particles of a particular size range. These may be HIV or avian flu virus particles in a sample. Because we can get results in minutes we have the potential to rapidly measure the viral load in a sample,” said Atkins.

“One application of this is to look at the effect of anti-viral drugs on the viral load to better manage the drug regime or get the dose right,” he added. This is a key issue for drug resistance especially with the complex and potentially toxic drugs used to fight HIV.

Another potential application of qViro is in the detection and measure of viruses in, for example, fish farms - giving rapid warning of health issues, according to Australo press release.

Viruses are just one kind of ‘nanoparticle’. A second version of the device - qNano - will be able to detect a wider range of nanoparticles - such as airborne pollutants.

“We know that micron-scale particles in car and truck exhausts can affect our lungs,” said Paul.

“Now it’s becoming apparent that there are a host of potentially dangerous nanoparticles as well. qNano is being developed to detect and quantify these particles as well - quickly and relatively cheaply.”

Australo’s instruments can measure these changes and profile each molecule as it passes through. They call the process SIOS (scanning ion occlusion spectroscopy).

“It’s the adjustability of the hole that makes Australo’s technology unique,” said Paul.

The device was featured in Ausbiotech - the national biotechnology conference, held in Melbourne on Tuesday.

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