A portable MicroKit system developed by the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), the world's first bioengineering and nanotechnology research institute, enables mass health screenings to be conducted at strategic locations such as airports, immigration checkpoints and train stations. By facilitating rapid and accurate disease detection at these decentralized places, IBN’s MicroKit can help to curb the spread of infectious diseases and prevent pandemics. This study was published recently in the leading microfluidic and nanofluidic journal, Lab on a Chip.
The outbreak of infectious diseases such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003 and the new strain of influenza A H1N1 virus in 2009, and their rapid proliferation within the community triggered a global fear and underscored the need for a fully automated system that can quickly identify infected patients.
Current diagnostic tests can take up to a day because they require several manual processes, including the breakdown of the virus sample, extraction of pathogenic RNA/DNA from the sample, and molecular diagnosis via real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RRT-PCR). Further, these tests can only be conducted in a laboratory setting by skilled operators who face the risk of accidental virus exposure. To meet the need for rapid and safe disease diagnosis, the main technological hurdle lies in integrating these processes into a portable device with automated processing capability.
IBN’s MicroKit is an all-in-one, fully automated desktop system that integrates the RNA/DNA extraction and RRT-PCR detection into one single platform. A disposable, self-contained cartridge stores all the necessary reagents for the nucleic acid-based molecular diagnosis. As everything takes place within the completely sealed cartridge, the risks of potential virus exposure and hardware contamination for the operator are eliminated.
According to Dr Mo-Huang Li, IBN Team Leader and Senior Research Scientist, “Using our MicroKit, the operator can simply pipette the patient’s sample into the cartridge, and the system would automatically perform the entire sample preparation and diagnosis. This saves a lot of time and allows diseases to be diagnosed in a timely manner. In addition, the cartridge design has no movable components, which greatly simplifies the cartridge fabrication and assembly. We are thus able to use injection molding to produce these cartridges inexpensively in large quantities.”
Since IBN was established in 2003, a multidisciplinary research team across the fields of engineering, science and medicine had been set up to develop a diagnostic system that can enable early-stage disease detection. IBN further developed the device into the MicroKit for fast and accurate detection of infectious diseases. The MicroKit has evolved from being able to perform only sample preparation to a fully automated all-in-one system that can also perform detection. In addition, the MicroKit is capable of conducting multiple diagnoses simultaneously for up to 3 diseases.
Another unique feature of IBN’s MicroKit is its ability to perform automated and speedy gene extraction and detection on a wide variety of biological samples, including tissues and body fluids. Realizing its commercial potential, IBN successfully licensed the MicroKit technology to SG Molecular Diagnostics Pte Ltd in January 2009 to develop a range of diagnostic devices. The MicroKit also received the “Best Innovation in Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Applications” Award in the 2009 ASEAN Virtual Instrumentation Applications Contest organized by National Instruments.
As reported in the Lab on a Chip paper, IBN’s MicroKit has been successfully employed for seasonal influenza A H1N1 typing and sub-typing, with comparable sensitivity as conventional methods. By making minor modifications to the system, the MicroKit can also potentially be used to detect a host of other infectious diseases such as hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), dengue and HIV.
Professor Jackie Y. Ying, IBN Executive Director, who leads the scientific team that developed the MicroKit says, “The MicroKit project is an example of IBN’s strategic approach towards tackling biomedical challenges through interdisciplinary research and collaboration. The team working on the Microkit project comes from diverse backgrounds and is able to capitalize on each other’s expertise. We are also delighted to have Dr. Evelyn S.-C. Koay of National University of Singapore and National University Hospital as our collaborator on this study. We are currently working on the next phase of development for the MicroKit to facilitate detection of up 25 diseases at the same time.”
The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) was established in 2003 and is spearheaded by its Executive Director, Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying, who has been on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Chemical Engineering faculty since 1992, and was among the youngest to be promoted to Professor in 2001.
In 2008, Professor Ying was recognized as one of “One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era” by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for her groundbreaking work on nanostructured systems, nanoporous materials and host matrices for quantum dots and wires.
Under her direction, IBN conducts research at the cutting-edge of bioengineering and nanotechnology. Its programs are geared towards linking multiple disciplines across all fields in engineering, science and medicine to produce research breakthroughs that will improve healthcare and our quality of life.
IBN’s research activities are focused in the following areas:
- Drug and Gene Delivery, where the controlled release of therapeutics involve the use of functionalized polymers, hydrogels and biologics for targeting diseased cells and organs, and for responding to specific biological stimuli.
- Cell and Tissue Engineering, where biomimicking materials, stem cell technology, microfluidic systems and bioimaging tools are combined to develop novel approaches to regenerative medicine and artificial organs.
- Biosensors and Biodevices, which involve nanotechnology and microfabricated platforms for high-throughput biomarkers and drug screening, automated biologics synthesis, and rapid disease diagnosis.
- Pharmaceuticals Synthesis and Green Chemistry, which encompasses the efficient catalytic synthesis of chiral pharmaceuticals, and new nanocomposite materials for sustainable technology and alternative energy generation.
IBN's innovative research is aimed at creating new knowledge and intellectual properties in the emerging fields of bioengineering and nanotechnology to attract top-notch researchers and business partners to Singapore. Since 2003, IBN researchers have published over 609 papers in leading journals.
IBN also plays an active role in technology transfer and spinning off companies, linking the research institute and industrial partners to other global institutions. The Institute has filed over 925 patent applications on its inventions and is currently looking for partners for collaboration and commercialization of its portfolio of technologies.
IBN's current staff strength stands at over 180 scientists, engineers and medical doctors. With its multinational and multidisciplinary research staff, the institute is geared towards generating new biomaterials, devices, systems, equipment and processes to boost Singapore’s economy in the fast-growing biomedical sector.
IBN is also committed to nurturing young minds, and the institute acts as a training ground for PhD students and undergraduates. In October 2003, IBN initiated a Youth Research Program to open its doors to university students, as well as students and teachers from various secondary schools and junior colleges. It has since reached out to more than 41,400 students and teachers from 233 local and overseas schools and institutions.
For more information, please log on to: http://www.ibn.a-star.edu.sg.