Research leads to portable DNA testing device

Jul 09, 2013 by Lorenzo Perez
Research leads to portable DNA testing device
James Landers with an earlier prototype of his "lab on a chip," which could speed DNA testing from days to minutes. Credit: Melissa Maki

( —More than 10 years of research and development have led to the introduction of a portable DNA analysis device that relies on technology developed by University of Virginia professor James P. Landers and a team of University researchers in collaboration with Lockheed Martin.

Low- of the new IntrepID S2A-90 device is under way, and full-scale production is being ramped up as Lockheed Martin delivered the device to select customers in May.

The to develop a new way to rapidly identify human DNA without a complex series of manual lab processes traces back to technology developed by Landers, a professor of in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, and graduate students in the departments of chemistry in the College, and Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science

That "lab-on-a-chip" technology, which aims to miniaturize and streamline the chemical processes involved in DNA testing and other biochemical analyses, led to the founding in 2003 of a U.Va. start-up company, MicroLab Diagnostics. Essentially, its goal was to build an entire lab on a single chip reliant on microfluidic technology.

Landers and a team of researchers with University ties, including chemists and mechanical and electrical engineers, worked on designing a device that could serve as a full-service lab, in miniature.

"The whole concept is that if you shrink down the plumbing, you can do very, very fast biochemistry," Landers said. "And the really rewarding part about this device is that it's in many ways a home-grown U.Va. success because of the number of U.Va. people involved from the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering and the School of Medicine."

The DNA testing process with the IntrepID S2A-90 begins with the collection of a biological sample, such as a cheek swab. Once the sample has been collected, it is attached to a hand-held cartridge that can hold as many as four swabs for analysis.

Using a proprietary enzymatic process, the DNA is released from the swab and presented for analysis, and with a combination of laser optics and detectors, the targeted DNA is identified, producing a profile ready for analysis on site.

In a statement released by Lockheed Martin, Business Development manager Bret Light said the new IntrepID S2A-90 device provides rapid DNA analysis, in the lab and in the field, in less than 90 minutes. Under previous tests, results took days, if not weeks to process.

"We're excited about the capabilities it can offer for forensic laboratories, law enforcement and other prospective users to perform DNA testing quickly and securely and meet their mission needs," Light said.

With a change in the on-board chemistry, the device also has the potential to be used in doctors' offices, for example, to quickly test for a variety of infectious diseases, as well as for cancer or genetic defects. The quick turnaround time for test results means a much quicker diagnosis for patients.

For forensic labs and law-enforcement officials, the use of a portable DNA testing device that promises results in a matter of minutes and not days could alleviate the ever-increasing backlog of lab tests. It also could lead to a much quicker identification of criminal suspects by matching DNA evidence at crime scenes against a database of known offenders.

R. Paul Gray, the managing member of MicroLab Horizon, which acquired the technology developed by the U.Va. start-up, said the impact of the will be "paradigm-shifting."

"The technology is superior to anything in the marketplace presently," Gray said. "It's been a great cooperative relationship between the University, Dr. Landers and Lockheed Martin to get the product where it is."

Explore further: Devices designed to identify pathogens in food

Related Stories

Researcher micro-sizes genetics testing

Sep 19, 2008

Using new "lab on a chip" technology, James Landers hopes to create a hand-held device that may eventually allow physicians, crime scene investigators, pharmacists, even the general public to quickly and inexpensively ...

NEC plans DNA analyzer for nearly-instant results

Nov 27, 2012

(—NEC is working on a DNA analyzer that is the size of a suitcase, portable enough to be taken to crime scenes. The NEC analyzer integrates all steps required in DNA analysis. By 2014, NEC intends ...

Put a lab on a chip

Nov 29, 2012

Need some blood work done? There might soon be an app for that.

Recommended for you

Devices designed to identify pathogens in food

May 27, 2015

Researchers at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico have developed a technology capable of identifying pathogens in food and beverages. This technique could work in the restaurant industry as ...

Biosensor may improve clinical diagnosis of influenza A

May 27, 2015

Sensors based on special sound waves known as surface acoustic waves (SAWs) are capable of detecting tiny amounts of antigens of Influenza A viruses. Developed by A*STAR researchers, the biosensors have the ...

New chip makes testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria faster, easier

May 26, 2015

We live in fear of 'superbugs': infectious bacteria that don't respond to treatment by antibiotics, and can turn a routine hospital stay into a nightmare. A 2015 Health Canada report estimates that superbugs have already cost Canadians $1 billion, and are a "serious and growing issue." Each year two million people in the U.S. contract antibiotic-re ...

Use your smartphone for biosensing

May 26, 2015

An Australian research team has shown that smartphones can be reconfigured as cost-effective, portable bioanalytical devices, with details reported in the latest edition of the Open Access Journal 'Sensors'.

Faster, portable microbial analysis in the field

May 25, 2015

Until recently, it took hours – sometimes days – to analyze biological samples after they were frozen in the field and brought back to the laboratory. But now there is a faster, cheaper and smaller way ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.