SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

GE, University of Washington develop portable diagnostic device

Scientists with General Electric Co. and the University of Washington announced on Thursday that they are developing an on-demand medical diagnostic device that could detect disease using a nasal swab in under an hour.

GE Global Research, the technology development arm of GE, is working with a team led by Paul Yager, the chair of bioengineering at the University of Washington, and other collaborators on a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The team received an 18-month, $9.6 million grant to develop an instrument-free, nucleic acid amplification device for the identification of pathogens.

"We live in an on-demand world, where news and information is instantaneous. We've asked why the same can't be done for diagnosing infectious diseases where early detection is so critical to positive patient outcomes," David Moore, the co-principal investigator of the project, said. "As part of our program with DARPA, we're developing a small, lightweight device that a doctor could fit in (his or her) pocket. This unit could readily detect multiple pathogens in limited resource settings, such as military outposts or communities in remote areas."

GE will use its domain experience in device design, nucleic acid analysis and diagnostics materials development to help in developing a handheld unit that is simple to pick up and use. The disposable device will be paper-based and will become activated after it is exposed to a nasal swab. The test will change color in less than an hour to indicate the presence of certain diseases.

"We want this to be as simple as a pregnancy test, where sample preparation to read-out is all done within the device with minimal user intervention," Moore said.

The first disease targeted by the test will be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a drug-resistant bacterium that causes difficult-to-treat infections in hospitals, prisons and military bases. The device could eventually be designed to detect a broad range of pathogens.