Wetenschap - 15 september 2010

Chip will detect infection faster

Astrid Smit

Physicians, chemists and engineers will develop a chip which can identify the cause of an infectious disease in a matter of minutes.

Currently, someone with a severe lung infection has to remain in uncertainty for a long time. It takes days for a laboratory to identify the pathogen. If the patient is severely ill, the doctor would prescribe an antibiotic without actually knowing what infection the patient is suffering from.
But this will change, hopes Professor Han Zuilhof of the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at Wageningen University. He leads a consortium of physicians, chemists and engineers to develop, amongst others, a chip which can detect the pathogen in a manner of minutes. A total of 8.5 million euros have been allocated to this Nanomedicine project. The money comes from the Funds for the Enhancement of the Economic Structure (FES). 
The chip will, amongst others, involve messenger-RNA in resistant cells. These are small molecules which 'betray' any intruder which the resistant cells of the patient are putting up a defence to. The chip can in theory identify thousands of RNA molecules at the same time. The RNA code indicates the nature of the intruder. 'The use of a chip like this will enable a more adequate treatment', says Zuilhof. 'The detection is fast and the doctor knows immediately which antibiotic he should prescribe.'
Before this can happen, the consortium - comprising academic researchers and companies - has to solve various problems. Such as: how to efficiently bring the sputum or serum of the patient through the micro-channels of the chip; which molecules actually need to be brought onto the chip; how to connect the hardware of the chip chemically to the bio-receptors which contain the molecules. The most difficult part of this project will be to integrate all the resulting know-how into a chip which a doctor can use, adds Zuilhof. 'We aim to have the major components ready in four years' time. Then, the companies participating in the consortium will be able to finish making the chip.'