A revolutionary handheld and battery-powered DNA diagnostic device invented at the University of Otago is poised to become a commonly used field tool for rapidly detecting suspected viruses or bacteria in samples while also determining the level of infection.
The breakthrough device, dubbed Freedom4, will be unveiled today at the Queenstown Molecular Biology main meeting. It takes advantage of a technology called quantitative PCR to identify target DNA sequences in real-time, without the need for further processing.
As an example, using Freedom4, the presence and extent of norovirus infection in a sample could be confirmed within less than an hour, while the person using the unit was still at the outbreak site.
Dr Jo-Ann Stanton, who led the programme to develop the device, says that as well as enabling ‘anytime, anywhere’ clinical diagnosis of viral infectious diseases in humans and animals, it also has many other potential uses, such as border security, forensics or environmental monitoring.
Developed by Dr Stanton’s multidisciplinary team at Otago’s Department of Anatomy, the sturdy unit weighs the same as a typical laptop and fits on the palm of your hand. Freedom4 boasts a six-hour battery life and can be tethered to a laptop, or connect wirelessly to smart phones or tablets running custom software that analyses and interprets the test results.
“This mobility could provide a great boon for farmers. For instance, vets could drive around a farm analysing samples from various locations, make their diagnoses and treat infected animals-all in one trip,” she says.