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New U. of Colorado at Boulder flu chip may help combat future epidemics, pandemics

"We can make it small and simple enough to take into rural areas in places like the Congo, Cambodia or Indonesia that may lack lab facilities," she said. "One of our goals has been to address the needs of developing nations by providing an inexpensive, field-portable test kit for respiratory illnesses to the World Health Organization for global screening of respiratory illness."

Kuchta said the team hopes to cut down on the 11-hour virus identification process. "We are now looking at ways to amplify the fluorescent signal after we capture the RNA on the microarray, which could shorten the identification time to just a couple of hours," he said.

Rowlen said the Flu Chip could also play a significant role in alerting government officials to an "engineered" influenza virus arising from terrorism.

Hurricane Katrina displayed the vulnerability of the United States to natural catastrophes, she said. "A flu pandemic is inevitable since the virus continually mutates and is naturally spread by migratory birds. Whether this year or 10 years from now, it is important to be prepared for such an event."

Most experts agree that preparations for a flu pandemic include early identification, vaccine development, the wide availability of pharmaceuticals and planning for possible local quarantine events. During the "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-1919, between 20 million and 40 million people died from influenza in less than a year and an estimated one-fifth of the world's population became infected.

The flu chip also could be used to swiftly test for the avian flu virus at large, remote bird farms in Asia, Europe and Russia, said Kuchta. The chip also could be easily reconfigured to use for the global surveillance of any RNA virus, including SARS, measles, HIV and hepatitis C, the researchers said.

Other members of the Flu Chip team include CU-Boulder postdoctoral researchers Erica Dawson, Daniela Dankbar, Martin Mehlman and C
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Contact: Kathy Rowlen
rowlen@colorado.edu
303-492-7027
University of Colorado at Boulder
7-Nov-2005


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