Our researchers are developing an innovative technique for DNA testing that is paving the way to point-of-care tests for medical conditions and faster crime scene analysis.
The ability to diagnose disease and identify people from the DNA sequence of their genome has revolutionised medicine and forensic science. However, the time-consuming nature of this type of test causes problems when results are needed quickly.
In partnership with international analytical science company LGC, our researchers have developed a new way of fluorescently labeling DNA with special probes. These probes, known as HyBeacons, light up when they attach to a specific target sequence of DNA. Their advantage over existing systems is their simple structure, which means they work very quickly and accurately.
The potential applications are numerous. “In theory, you could diagnose any infectious or genetic disease by using HyBeacons on the DNA sequence of bacteria, viruses or people,” says project leader Tom Brown, Professor of Chemical Biology at Southampton.
Our researchers are using the technique to develop a test for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia. This is an increasingly common infection that can lead to infertility in women, but studies have shown that up to 40 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease do not return for treatment. The new test aims to produce results in 15 minutes, which will enable treatment to be prescribed straight away.
HyBeacons could also be used for swift analysis of DNA samples from crime scenes. Currently, finding a DNA ‘match’ is a lengthy process and suspects often need to be released before results are ready. Southampton scientists and LGC are developing an ultra-rapid, portable test that could be carried out by non-experts.
The new technique opens up numerous other possibilities, from paternity testing to checking livestock for diseases such as foot and mouth. The research is now in the commercial arena: LGC is hoping to commercialise the technique and is working with ATDBio, a company based at the University, to make the probes.