S'pore chip diagnoses TB in just 3 hours

SINGAPORE - The time taken to accurately diagnose tuberculosis (TB) looks set to be cut from up to eight weeks down to less than three hours.

This is all thanks to a semiconductor chip smaller than a $1 coin, invented in Singapore and developed with a European consortium.

Conventional methods, such as the long-used sputum-smear microscopy method, can take up to eight weeks to accurately identify TB infections. This method involves the analysis of sputum samples by laboratory technicians to see if TB bacteria are present.

The new method, which uses a chip called VereMTB, was launched yesterday by Singapore-based firm Veredus Laboratories.

The chip is based on technology by STMicroelectronics, an international semiconductor company. Veredus Laboratories is a subsidiary of STMicroelectronics, which is part of the European consortium.

The chip took over two years to develop and is able to diagnose drug-resistant variants of TB as well as nine other infections.

These infections are often misdiagnosed as TB due to similarities in symptoms.

To carry out a diagnosis, channels in the chip are filled with DNA samples taken from the sputum of a patient suspected to have TB. This is later passed through the chip's detection area. The patient's DNA is then matched against that of TB and its variants on the chip itself, before a diagnosis is made.

Patients will be expected to fork out about US$100 (S$122) per diagnosis. The company said that it is in the initial stage of discussions with both public and private hospitals.

The chief executive of Veredus Laboratories, Dr Rosemary Tan, said that the chip may be available commercially in a few years' time.

"It (the microchip)... is able to combine speed and high sensitivity in a single, easy-to-use test," she said.

keliz@sph.com.sg


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