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Hogan Yu

Your PC could soon diagnose diseases

November 27, 2008

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You’ll soon be able to diagnose illnesses at home as easily as diabetics test their blood sugar levels, using your home computer’s CD/DVD player as a diagnostic device, thanks to some breakthrough research at SFU.

Associate Chemistry professor Hua-Zhong (Hogan) Yu, his grad student Lily Ou and postdoctoral researcher Yunchao Li have developed a digital readout protocol for screening micro-scale medical tests prepared on regular CD/DVD discs. Yu says the same free analysis software used to detect defects on CDs and DVDs can also detect disease-marker molecules that are currently found by using advanced diagnostic equipment in biomedical laboratories.

Using mild chemical reactive agents, the science trio bound tiny synthetic probing molecules to a regular CD/DVD disc, without changing its optical properties, something previous researchers had been unable to do. Because the captured molecules were too small to generate enough scattered light to be detected by a disc player’s optical reader, the team surrounded the molecules with larger metal particles they had grown. The particles acted as amplifiers.

"BioDisc technology is a powerful tool for the high-throughput analysis of specific interactions between biological macromolecules, such as DNA, proteins and carbohydrates," explains Yu.

"It’s commonly used in gene profiling, clinical diagnosis, vaccine development and drug discovery. The ability to carry out these applications on a regular CD/DVD player would make them doable in doctors’ offices and at home, rather than in labs and hospitals.

"Patients who face lengthy waits to get preliminary diagnostic tests for complex diseases such as cancer and HIV could eventually carry them out at home."

Yu says the next challenge, which will likely take years to resolve, will be to figure out how to directly introduce liquid biomedical samples to the Biodisc for reading, and what tests would be acceptable to the public.

The researchers published their findings in the November 2008 issue of Analytical Chemistry. Their research was also featured in Nature News and Views.

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