Pathogen diagnostics -fast and safe


The weakest link in medicine. Today, the fight against an infectious disease usually begins with a suspicion. Based on external symptoms, doctors assume a specific pathogen to be cause of the disease and select the appropriate therapy. If there is no success, another therapy is tried. A precise pathogen analysis has always been too slow and expensive to be used in practice. 

02The idea

Molecular tests based on PCR are much more precise than the usual rapid tests; they search for the specific RNA (the genotype) of a pathogen in a sample. This method is tested and precise but also very time-consuming and costly. One would have to develop a small device that could test a sample at the doctors in a maximum of 30 minutes... In theory, this is very simple and compelling; but in practice, all attempts to develop practical lab-on-a-chip systems have so far failed. One of the major challenges was the laborious cleaning of the sample.

A North German biotech start-up has acquired an excellent reputation in pathogen diagnostics in just a short time. It was courageous enough to use the long-known method of nested PCR for this problem. Here, two separate cycles of the RNA amplification are switched in succession, meaning that the laborious cleaning of the sample can be avoided.

03The innovation

Until recently, this long-known method had a significant disadvantage. Between the two cycles of RNA amplification, part of the sample had to be removed and transferred to another container. This meant that impurities were too easily produced, preventing a reliable diagnostic test. The bright idea: With the help of modern microsystem technology, it should be possible to handle very small samples automatically, safely and quickly.

04The implementation

A leading research institute for microsystem technology has been acquired for the development. The biotech company develops the "chemistry", the institute develops the technical components for transport, heating and cooling, detection. With a large laboratory, another company was on-hand to compare the results with the previous values obtained in the classical laboratory.

A large subsidy was won for funding the project within the framework of a funding competition.