New slide speeds disease diagnosis

Times Staff Writer

A glass microscope slide covered with bits and pieces of genetic information from nearly 30,000 different viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites can quickly tell disease hunters whether a patient has malaria, influenza or myriad other diseases, researchers say.

The device, known as a GreeneChip, is already being used by the World Health Organization and the Defense Department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to receive its first batch next week.

Eventually, the device, manufactured by Agilent Technologies Inc. of Santa Clara, could make its way into physicians' offices, but that would require approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Accurate diagnosis of diseases is often difficult because hundreds of different infectious agents can cause similar symptoms, said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of the Greene Infectious Diseases Laboratory at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. Lipkin, the leader of the team that developed the test, has no financial stake in Agilent Technologies.

Testing for each potential agent can take days and delay treatment. Lipkin cited the case of a healthcare worker who died from acute fever and liver failure during a Marburg fever outbreak in Angola in 2005: The worker had tested negative for the Marburg virus; postmortem GreeneChip testing showed that he had had malaria.

If the chip been available in the field at the time, Lipkin said, the worker could have been treated and saved.

In the $125 test, health workers place tissue, blood, urine or stool samples on the slide. If an infectious agent is present, it binds to the corresponding genetic material on the slide, providing rapid identification.

The team reported their results in the CDC's online journal Emerging Infectious Diseases on Wednesday.

The development of the GreeneChip was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Ellison Medical Foundation. Intellectual property rights are held by Columbia.

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