'Biochip' aims to quicken disease diagnosis, cut medical test costs

The Hydra-1K will make it easier to recommend drugs for a disease

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

A new "biochip" under development to accurately identify disease strains may reduce costs for medical testing and also reduce wait time for results.

The Hydra-1K -- which is a silicon chip -- can be used at doctor's offices or points of care, where a disease can be instantly analyzed to determine treatment, said Arjang Hassibi, founder and CEO of startup InSilixa, during a presentation at the Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California.

The chip -- which Hassibi also called a reader -- heats up a culture or sample, and can identify unique molecular structures like DNA sequences, to help identify possible strains of a disease, which can help determine medication, or whether a patient needs to be isolated.

Right now the chip can test cultures or samples only for specific diseases and mutations.

The tool has sensors, I/O ports and a fluidic cap through which the sample is sent on the chip. The chip is then heated up, and sensors then assess the sample to identify specific DNA sequences. The chip is then disposed after one use.

Hydra-1K can't identify diseases from scratch. The chip instead is "hypothesis-driven," and an assumption needs to be made that a patient has a particular disease, after which a sample is tested for specific genomic strains.

Hassibi provided the example of E-Coli. The chip can check specific DNA sequences for random mutations to determine whether the bug is resistant or sensitive to antibiotics. Each disease has unique DNA sequence identifiers ranging from around 10 for urinary tract infections to around 1,000 for tuberculosis.

The chip can detect up to 1,000 sequences and analyze samples to high accuracy rates, said Hassibi, who previously was a professor and biosensor researcher in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Texas, Austin.

It'll also save patients lots of money, Hassibi said.

For example, if a urinary tract infection or respiratory disease isn't diagnosed via conventional techniques, samples need to be sent to labs for meaningful results. It could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to conduct tests for specific diseases, and results could take a while to come back, Hassibi said.

The price per test with the Hydra-1K biochip could be between US$7 and $15, Hassibi said. Other tests to detect patterns can be costly, with the most expensive being DNA sequencing, which could cost up to $700,000, he said.

The Hydra-1K will ship by the middle of next year to healthcare professionals. It will be used for one or two high-volume "applications," or for specific diseases, Hassibi said in an interview on the sidelines of the show.

InSilixa first has to prove that the chip and its detection techniques work, and then it will hopefully attract more users, Hassibi said. The reader will not be available to end customers.

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