Health Team

Duke researchers try to quickly diagnose illness

Posted August 6, 2009 1:38 p.m. EDT

— Duke researchers are using nano-technology and their knowledge of the human genome in an effort to quickly diagnose an illness.

Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg, director of Duke’s Center for Genomic Research, said the research involves learning how a person's genes change when they come into contact with a virus.

Ginsburg said doctors will then “have the opportunity to intercede earlier and prevent” viruses from “spreading within communities and leading to epidemics.”

“Ultimately what we really want to do is take our biological findings and place them in a device that really gives a rapid read out,” Ginsburg said.

Using blood samples in a lab, researchers have identified changes in genetic activity that reveal an acute viral infection with 95 percent accuracy.

This genetic finger print identified the influenza-A virus with 100 percent accuracy and distinguished viral from bacterial respiratory infections with 93 percent accuracy.

Researchers said this could decrease the inappropriate use of use of antibiotics, which don't work on viruses.

“I don’t want to give someone a drug that they may have a side effect to or that may breed resistance to those types of drugs,” Ginsberg said.

Biomedical engineers already have a prototype of a device that will be able to detect the genetic signature. The device is built using an ultra-high vacuum chamber.

Duke’s research is being funded by the United Stated Department of Defense. The department is interested in having a small mobile device to quickly identify which soldiers are sick or even who is infected and will become sick, before they show symptoms.

Duke researchers hope to have a prototype ready in up to a year.