European microchip maker STMicroelectronics is planning to market a disposable laboratory microchip that can confirm within about an hour a human case of bird flu.
STMicroelectronics, a Franco-Italian group, in partnership with the Singapore-based medical diagnostics company Veredus Laboratories, is developing a disposable laboratory microchip that could be available to healthcare providers this autumn.
STMicro says the single-test application will be a substantial breakthrough in the rapid identification of infections and will limit the spread of the disease and speed up treatment.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), to date the H5N1 avian flu virus has killed at least 79 people, and infected 150 others since 2003, which does not include some of the most recent cases reported in Turkey and Indonesia.
The virus remains one contacted through close contact with infected birds.
Veredus in it's role is developing an application, based on STMicro's technology, to identify if a patient is infected with the H5N1 strain or a subtype of influenza in a single test that could replace the several tests currently used to detect the illness.
The diagnostic facility is built on STMicroelectronics' "In-Check" platform, which is described as a complete laboratory on a chip, "lab-on-chip".
The lab-on-chip uses a sample of blood or a swab from the throat or nose to detect the virus, which is read by a machine.
As yet the companies have not revealed price details, but say the plan is to target high-return areas such as airports and immigration points before moving into more mainstream markets, such as hospitals.
According to Veredus' Managing Director Chua Chee Min, current "dip-stick" tests were only 80 to 90 percent accurate while their latest product was 99 percent accurate.
Chua says their ultimate goal is to make the product available in clinics.
Last year Veredus launched a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kit which detects the H5N1 strain in both humans and poultry within approximately four hours.
This product is already on the market, mainly in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The group say that their new chip will be cost competitive if orders are large enough.
Anton Hofmeister, group vice president and general manager of STMicro's Microfluidic division, says they hope to apply the chip technology to other diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and meningitis.