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Analytical Chemistry

Nanopore Sensors ID Viruses In A Jiffy

Medical Diagnostics: Small-scale sequencing devices detect pathogens including Ebola in clinical samples from humans

by Matt Davenport
October 12, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 40

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Credit: Oxford Nanopore
MinION devices are roughly the size of USB memory sticks.
09340-scicon-gotchaviruscxd.jpg
Credit: Oxford Nanopore
MinION devices are roughly the size of USB memory sticks.

Researchers led by Charles Y. Chiu at the University of California, San Francisco, have used nanopore DNA sequencers to detect a range of viral infections directly from clinical samples for the first time (Genome Med. 2015, DOI: 10.1186/s13073-015-0220-9). Using software developed by Chiu’s team, the sequencers identified Ebola, chikungunya, and hepatitis C viruses in human samples in a matter of minutes. The approach can be used to detect any virus on the basis of its distinct DNA sequence, Chiu says. The team used MinION sequencing devices, which are developed by the company Oxford Nanopore Technologies. These small USB devices record electronic signals as DNA threads through pores created by membrane-bound proteins in a chip. The nanopore platform interprets these signals to reveal a DNA molecule’s unique sequence. The platform’s portability and real-time analysis capabilities make it attractive for point-of-care screening, but Chiu says there are obstacles to overcome before the technology can be widely used in the clinic. For instance, despite the short sequencing time, preparing a sample still takes about five hours. Chiu and his colleagues are now working to develop methods that cut this time in half. “It’s an ambitious goal,” he tells C&EN. “Ambitious, but feasible.”

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