The company will determine the necessary sample preparation methods, optimize probe sequences, improve detection limits, and make several prototype chips. The new technology will be tested using clinical samples in collaboration with the UCLA School of Medicine (Los Angeles, CA). Applications for the new technology could include the detection of environmental hazards and quick identification of both medical conditions and the most effective treatments.
More than 30 million cases of food-borne illnesses are reported every year in the United States, with outbreaks becoming more frequent and more severe. The development of rapid, low-cost technology for on-site testing could save millions of dollars now spent shutting down food production lines and investigating sources of contamination. "DNA chips" hold promise for such testing, but the systems developed to date have various technical limitations and remain too expensive for widespread use. Clinical Micro Sensors was founded by California Institute of Technology researchers who developed an electronic DNA detection method that could reduce costs dramatically by eliminating several analytical steps. In this ATP project, the company will incorporate the new method into low-cost, rapid, flexible DNA chip technology that would be suitable for routine use in the field and in doctors' offices. The CMS microchips contain electronically active pads, each attached to a different DNA probe. The genetic material from a biological sample attaches to matching probes and to other probes that are electronically labeled. When a voltage is applied, the labels produce electronic signals that can be analyzed in minutes by a handheld unit to identify and quantitate genetic sequences. Among its advantages, the CMS technology can in principle analyze single- or double-stranded DNA of any length from whole blood, suggesting that little sample preparation is needed. It is also very sensitive because of the unique sensor structure employing molecular wires embedded in organized monolayers on electrodes. The key technical challenge is to make the method sensitive enough to eliminate the need for the costly process of amplification (i.e., making many copies of the sample DNA to produce enough for analysis.) Even if this is not possible, the methodology is still potentially cost effective.