By: Wagdy Sawahel and Catherine Brahic


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Scientists in South Korea have published promising initial results from their research on an electronic tool for rapid diagnosis of hepatitis C. The tool — a so-called 'protein chip' — could eventually lead to a multi-purpose diagnosis kit, used for detecting several diseases in a single test.

A protein chip is a small electrical device embedded with molecules designed to stick to and quantify specific proteins. A chip, for instance, can be created to detect certain molecules that are released into the blood stream when a person is infected with hepatitis C.

Chul-Soo Yuk of the Korea University at Seoul and colleagues write in the October issue of Biotechnology Letters that their chip is as precise as the current, commercially available test. They add that, "with further development, the application of protein chip technology to a myriad of diseases may eventually be possible".

Jean-Michel Pawlotsky, a virologist at the Henri Mondor Hospital in France says that although the findings are promising, more robust tests need to be done to confirm the tool's efficiency. However, he says the potential to design a protein chip to test for a range of diseases at the same time could be very helpful for blood banks and disease diagnostics in the future.

Hepatitis C is caused by a virus and spread primarily by direct contact with infected blood and blood products. In many developing countries, these are still being used medically without being screened for the virus.

Namhyun Chung, a co-author of the research paper, told SciDev.Net, "We believe that the kit can be used for [hepatitis C] blood screening in developing countries, regardless of each country’s economic situation".

Pawlotsky is less confident. "Current techniques are very easy and inexpensive," he told SciDev.Net. "It is therefore difficult to see how useful this new technology would be as a single-purpose diagnostic kit."

The World Health Organization estimates that about 170 million people, three per cent of the world's population, are infected with hepatitis C and are at risk of developing liver disease, including liver cancer. There is no vaccine available against the virus.

Link to abstract of paper by Chul-Soo Yuk et al in Biotechnology Letters

Reference: Biotechnology Letters 26, 1563 (2004)

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