New technology may benefit health care, bioterror defense

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The spelling of "Willson" is correct.

HOUSTON, Mar. 4, 2002 What took hundreds of researchers working together for nearly 10 years to complete soon may be accomplished in less than a day, according to University of Houston researchers who have filed a patent on a new process to sequence the human genome.

Biochemist Susan Hardin and four UH colleagues are developing a new technology for direct molecular sensing that could be used to sequence an individuals entire genome the gathering of all the genetic information contained in a persons DNA in less than 24 hours. When fully developed as a commercial device, the technology could offer doctors a more rapid and more thorough way to determine who is at risk for certain genetic diseases, or which people might react adversely to a particular drug.

The technology also could be used to rapidly identify unknown pathogens used in a bioterrorism attack, where quick answers about an organism could save lives.

While the development of the technology is progressing quickly, Hardin estimates that a commercial device based on the direct molecular sensor is about three to five years away. She and colleagues in the UH Department of Biology and Biochemistry James Briggs, Xiaolian Gao, David Tu and Richard Willson formed a Houston company called Visigen Biotechnologies in 2000 to develop and commercialize the process. In addition to recent patent applications, Hardin presented information about the technology for the first time Feb. 21 in Miami at the DARPA Tissue Based Biosensors, Advanced Diagnostics and Advanced Detection Technology Program Review.

"If you started today, using current technology to sequence one persons entire genome, the process might take two to four years," says Hardin, an assistant professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston. "Thats thanks to technological advances developed in the 10 years it took to complete the Human Genom

Contact: Amanda Siegfried
University of Houston

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