Microchip charge may identify diseases

February 19, 1999

Viruses such as herpes and HIV and diseases caused by parasites, such as malaria, could soon be detectable by a microchip much more quickly than by existing methods of diagnosis.

A team at the University of Wales Bangor and the University of Glasgow is developing a device to identify bacteria or viruses according to their electrical charges.

Blood samples placed in the device should separate into particles moving at different speeds according to their electrical properties. In the presence of an electric field, each type of biological particle moves in a certain way depending on the strength of the field and frequency of its oscillation.

Using nanotechnology, which involves manipulating individual atoms and molecules, researchers have developed precise electric fields. By examining optical waves to detect movement and numbers of particles in these fields, they should be able to tell if a particular virus is present, if, like the herpes virus, it changes a cell's electrical properties.

The system would work much like existing blood count methods used in hospitals. But it should operate much faster and with a smaller quantity of blood.

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