Coming soon to Singapore: Chip that can identify 13 diseases

SINGAPORE - A new biochip that can identify 13 different major tropical diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and hand, foot and mouth disease from a single blood sample in just three hours will soon be launched in the market.

Jointly released by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and Singapore- based molecular diagnostics supplier Veredus Laboratories, VereTrop, as the biochip is called, is the result of three years of collaborative research and funding. Prior to its release, the chip was successfully tested in clinical trials conducted in northern Thailand, on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Said A*Star's Associate Professor Lisa Ng, the lead virologist for the project: "Tropical diseases often reflect common symptoms like fever, and may not be accurately diagnosed by doctors. This portable test kit is a rapid and reliable method to accurately test for multiple pathogenic targets."

In addition to diagnostics for diseases commonly found in Singapore, the research team also included those for diseases common in African and South American tropical countries, such as sleeping sickness and yellow fever.

"This is by far our most ambitious project," said Rosemary Tan, chief executive of Veredus Laboratories. "The key advantage for this chip is that you can see so many things in such a short time with a single sample."

The release of VereTrop follows that of Veredus's other biochips, such as one for influenza viruses in 2008 and another for food-borne pathogens in 2011.

Dr Tan noted that although VereTrop addresses a "neglected need" in the market, its success relative to the company's other biochips remains to be seen. "Every single chip is different," she said.

The biochip will be manufactured in Italy at a potential capacity of "hundreds of thousands", according to Veredus's chief operating officer Robert Louis Hodges.

Dr Tan said the biochip will be sold for "about $100".

In addition to local hospitals, Veredus is looking at marketing the biochip to companies in countries such as China, Indonesia and Brazil. However, Dr Tan declined to name specific clients.

Calling it a "huge honour" for Veredus to work with A*Star, Dr Tan looks forward to further collaboration in the future. "Veredus can give scientists a link . . . The researcher would be very encouraged that her applications can be directly fed into the market."

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