DNA analysis is key to many modern medical techniques, but usually requires a whole bunch of electronics and chemistry in a lab environment. That's not suitable for poorer nations, so a science team has simplified it to the max.
Designed by Catherine Klapperich's Biomedical Microdevices and Microenvironments Laboratory at Boston University, the simple DNA purification system, dubbed the System for Nucleic Acid Preparation (SNAP) is no bigger than a typical drinks thermos flask. It also requires no power to extract DNA from blood or other samples. Instead the cells are broken down inside the device under pressure from a bicycle pump and in the presence of some simple chemistry that washes away the unwanted cellular material. That leaves the DNA which is then filtered out via a straw-like device lined with a polymer that binds to the DNA molecules. At the end of the process the DNA, safely in its container straw, can then be sent off to a proper lab.
And that's the real power of this technique. In a remote rural environment blood or other fluid samples are unlikely to remain properly looked after, and in some cases refrigeration will be inadequate. Whereas the extracted DNA is relatively stable at room temperatures, and can thus be easily sent off for analysis. There it's ready for testing for HIV, flu or a whole slew of other genetic-related diseases. In a global pandemic situation, such as we're potentially facing with the still-spreading swine flu outbreak, the portability and simplicity of SNAP would be amazingly useful in helping diagnose and then limit the spread of the disease in remoter parts of the developing world.
The prototype is soon due to undergo field tests in Nicaragua, and then it will be refined with feedback data from the clinicians who use it there.
[via Technology Review]