Future blood tests may use tiny bar-codes to speed disease diagnosis

Analyzing a blood sample for the presence of disease markers, either in a doctor's office or on the battlefield, could soon become as quick and easy as scanning the bar-code of a grocery item. Using nanotechnology, researchers at Northwestern University have developed a way to label tiny disease markers in blood with unique DNA tags, which they call bio-bar-codes. The tags can then be scanned by an instrument to identify diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's, or identify exposure to bioterror agents such as anthrax and smallpox, they say.

Details about the analytical test, which appears promising in experimental studies, are scheduled to appear in the May 19 print issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The study was published online today (April 27) on the journal's Web site.

"This test has the potential to completely revolutionize medical diagnostics," says Chad A. Mirkin, Ph.D., head of the study and director of Northwestern's Institute for Nanotechnology, located in Evanston, Ill. He says that the test will bring efficient, high-tech DNA diagnostics to unprecedented settings, including the battlefield and Third World villages, as well as hospitals and the home.

The test is easier, faster, more accurate and less expensive than polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is currently used to detect and quantify DNA samples, he says. The new test, called bio-bar-code amplification (BCA), could be ready for marketing in as little as one year, Mirkin says.

Unlike conventional tests that require one or more vials of blood, the new test allows a single drop of blood to paint a patient's comprehensive disease profile in about the same amount of time it takes for a routine doctor's visit.

The test is based on a set of chemical probes that are used to tag disease markers. If one is trying to detect exposure

Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society

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