UC-San Francisco researchers get funding for biodefense assay

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have received an $888,000 grant to develop a pan-viral microarray diagnostic assay for category A-C biodefense pathogens.

Charles Chiu, head researcher and director of the UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, told GenomeWeb.com that it is his hope that the grant will help the team develop a quick, affordable assay that can be used for disease surveillance in public health laboratories.

Chiu told GenomeWeb.com that his lab will co-develop the assay with the Maryland-based Akonni Biosystems.

The test is based on the Virochip, a pan-viral, 20,000-probe microarray, which covers 1,800 viruses. Chiu told GenomeWeb.com that he plans to condense the Virochip to a portable, smaller format with a rapid turnaround time that can be selective for detecting biothreat agents.

The current version of the Virochip, which is manufactured by Agilent Technologies, costs approximately $200 per sample, according to Chiu. It has a turnaround time of between 12 and 24 hours. Chiu said he hopes to convert that to an assay with a turnaround time of two hours that can be purchased for between $10 and $15.

“The plan is to take over five years to do the validation and to deploy the instrument out to collaborators in large public health agencies, at the point of care, to institute a surveillance system for the next potential outbreak or pandemic,” Chiu told GenomeWeb.com.

Chiu said that the array will target pathogens like viral hemorrhagic fevers, arenaviruses, viral encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis and emerging infectious diseases such as Nipah virus and hantavirus.

The $888,000 grant was funded through the National Institutes of Health.

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