The Flu Chip will allow doctors and public health officials to differentiate between three types of influenza and other viruses that cause similar clinical symptoms, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
The CU team, led by Professor Kathy Rowlen and co-principal investigator and Associate Professor Robert Kuchta of the chemistry and biochemistry department, recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Infectious Disease to develop the chip in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the World Health Organization and Bio-Rad Laboratories in Hercules, Calif.
According to Rowlen, influenza A viral infections have had a dramatic impact on humans, with an estimated 500,000 deaths worldwide each year and significant economic impact resulting from direct and indirect loss of productivity during infection.
"For comparison, the corona virus that caused the recent outbreak of SARS has claimed less than 1,000 lives to date," said Rowlen. "However, as demonstrated by the public response to SARS, of great concern is the ability of viruses to undergo natural or engineered genetic change that could result in a virus capable of rapid and lethal spread within the population."
One of the most dramatic events in influenza history was the so-called "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-1919. In less than a year, between 20 million and 40 million people died from influenza, with an estimated one fifth of the world's population infected.
"Because it is readily transmitted, primarily as an airborne pathogen and because the virus can be genetically engineered into novel forms, influenza A also represents a serious biodefense concern," Rowlen said.
"Rapid identification of any biological