According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20 percent of the U.S. population will come down with the flu this flu season. Of those approximately 7 million Americans, over 200,000 end up being hospitalized. One way to curb that high number of severe cases is with more accurate and faster diagnosis of the flu and other respiratory viruses upfront. GE Global Research announced today that it has been awarded a program by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s famed innovation arm, to develop a breakthrough medical device capable of diagnosing the flu and other infectious diseases like malaria, E. coli and salmonella at point of care. Beyond improving the accuracy and speed of flu diagnoses, a key goal of the program is to create a device that can be easily adapted to test for new strains of disease.
GE will partner with InDevR, a rapidly growing biotech company in Boulder, Colorado, to develop the device. InDevR specializes in virus identification, building new tools to assist disease diagnosis and in vaccine development; GE will bring its expertise in DNA and RNA analysis to the project. The $5.8 million in funding from DARPA will result in the creation of at least 7 new jobs at InDevR.
Often, patient samples are sent to the lab where many steps are taken to prepare and analyze them for the flu and other diseases. GE and InDevR researchers want to move this process from the lab to the field by developing special papers that prepare the sample and a portable device that can then analyze them. Here, GE scientists Erin Finehout and Bing Li look over a roll of this paper recently printed on the pilot line behind them at GE’s research facility in Upstate New York.
DARPA, responsible for breakthroughs like the Internet and the Stealth Fighter plane, has asked for a device that is highly portable, easy to use and requires little training. In addition to improving diagnostics at doctors’ offices, the new device could be deployed at remote military bases or as part of humanitarian missions responding to major health care pandemics and disasters around the world.
GE scientists hope they will be able to build adaptability into the device by developing the capability to simultaneously analyze multiple types of biomolecules—DNA, RNA and protein—in a given patient sample. Existing devices can only work with one of these types molecules at a time, hampering adaptability to diagnose new strains or different kinds of diseases.