Lab in A Box: Adaptive PCR


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Scientists at Vanderbilt University are working on a process that ultimately may allow patients to get test results fast, PCR. The process involves automating the duplication process of a person’s DNA to bring those DNA levels up to the point where they can be detected.

They may not look like much, but these dyes pack a powerful punch. Identified by Mindy Leelawong, research assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, these unconventional dyes eliminate certain critical processing steps when it comes to testing blood samples.

(Read Full Interview)

Leelawong told Ivanhoe, “Blood is one of the hardest materials to work with because you have so many inhibitors that are present within blood.”

In the field, the blood sample from the patient is collected and shipped to a laboratory to extract the DNA for testing, which can take hours or even days. Now, researchers are working with the dyes and a process called adaptive polymerase chain reaction, or PCR.

“We can actually bypass that entire process and instead be able to perform the test right now on the ground,” Leelawong said.

When the dye mixes with the blood, it allows the testing to be done directly on the blood sample instead of extracting the DNA

“They’ll just take a sample out, add water, add the patient’s sample and then basically put it into the machine and then press start,” Christia Victoriano, undergraduate biomedical engineering student at Vanderbilt University, said.

Leelawong has studied this technique on malaria and believes that same technique can be applied to other diseases.

“So some examples you can think of might be HIV or hepatitis viruses,” Leelawong explained.

In any location.

“What I would really like to happen and see happen is to have these tools available to everyone, no matter where you’re located, no matter how remote your patients,” Leelawong said.

Giving everyone access to care

Right now, the adaptive PCR is the size of a shoebox, but Leelawong and her team are working to make it even smaller. They are designing a device that can fit in the palm of your hand.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Blood tests have been used to show how well organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart are working. They can be used to diagnose diseases like cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Doctors will also use blood tests to check if medications are working, if your blood is clotting and to see whether you have risks factors for heart disease. The most common blood test is a complete blood count which looks into your red blood and white blood cell counts as well as platelets, which are blood cell fragments that help your blood clot. There is also a blood chemistry test, and blood enzyme test. There are very few risks associated with blood tests and the consequence of complications is minor and then go away shortly after the test is over.


DIAGNOSING: When taking a diagnostic blood test you may need to fast for eight to twelve hours, but your doctor will give you that information. The blood is extracted either through the vein or by having your finger pricked. It takes between five to ten minutes.  For most in-hospital laboratories, you can see the results within three to six hours, but if the blood is drawn on the outside it can take several days to get results back. The normal range for gaging is in the 95 percent of healthy people with factors such as diet, physical activity and medicines possibly causing abnormal results.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: There are new methods being created such as adaptive transcription polymerase chain reaction. Researchers have been testing a multiplex adaptive rt-PCR instrument to detect things as the Zika virus, which takes more than 700,000 thousand lives every year. The instrument is meant to help with the annealing and melting of mirror-image L-DNA. This is a common problem for those trying to diagnose the disease in the field because they lack the thermal cycling platform.  Mindy Leelawong, Ph.D., a researcher at Vanderbilt University, says that the heating up of the blood does not really look into the bite that they need, but the new instrument will allow them to eliminate the upstream processing. It also allows for doctors to preform the test in the presence of the blood. Researchers at the University of South Florida are also looking into a new mobile technology called Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay or Elisa. This would allow for the same tests, like a blood test that to be performed in a remote area and get the results quicker.



Spencer Turney, Media Relations Specialist

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Mindy Leelawong, PhD, Biomedical Engineering

Read the entire Q&A