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News

How Hairpin Probe and Gold Gets Bad Bugs Glowing

Society For General Microbiology : 29 March, 2004  (Company News)
Using tiny amounts of gold and a genetic 'hairpin probe', US scientists have developed a sensor which will aid hospitals in the fight against serious infections such as Staphylococcus aureus, researchers from the University of Rochester, New York, will announce at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting in Bath.
The feat of micro-engineering is the latest response by medical researchers against the constant and continuing threat from hospital superbugs capable of causing life threatening infections in patients.

The scientists needed to develop an easy-to-use and inexpensive method to rapidly detect harmful organisms. Their solution may also provide doctors with new ways to identify and diagnose diseases.

'In our chip, a DNA hairpin probe carrying a fluorescent marker is attached to a tiny piece of gold. The gold normally short-circuits the fluorescent part of the probe, but when it detects a dangerous virus, fungus or bacterium, the probe attaches itself using the DNA', says Professor Benjamin L Miller of Rochester University, New York. 'As the probe attaches itself, the hairpin shaped DNA is straightened out, allowing it to fluoresce. We can immediately detect the glow using light sensitive equipment, warning us about the infection'.

So far the researchers have proved that the tiny device works in the laboratory, where it has already detected Staphylococcus aureus, a drug resistant strain of bacteria which is a major source of infections in hospitals. The early results are so promising however that the next step, to get permission to begin clinical studies, is already planned.

The system can selectively and sensitively detect the genetic fingerprint of target organisms without the need for the samples to be collected, processed and analysed in a laboratory, saving time in identifying dangerous infections.

'Our technology, and work by others, is pointing the way to new rapid diagnostics that will allow doctors to diagnose patients more rapidly and efficiently, and may also improve the precision with which they prescribe treatment', says Prof Miller.
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