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Illuminating the flu: A new technology could make it easier for researchers to fight a host of diseases

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Photo of AIR platform device

A prototype of the AIR platform, which monitors
strains of the flu virus in order to develop effective
vaccines. [Permission granted by Benjamin Miller]

To stop a flu epidemic before it starts, you’ve got to know your enemy. But for epidemiologists and vaccine developers involved in the annual fight against the flu, it’s not enough to identify the mere presence of a flu virus. You’ve got to know exactly which virus you’re dealing with and how widely it has spread.

Figuring that out can be costly and difficult for scientists racing to contain a highly contagious disease, but an innovative, newly-patented test that needs only a drop of blood and a silicon chip offers hope for speeding up the process. And its inventor thinks his device, which may be on the market as early as next year, could be useful for detecting other diseases, too.

“What really excites me is having this tool that people come up to me with exciting applications that I haven’t thought of — that really is neat to me,” says Benjamin Miller, a dermatologist at the University of Rochester in New York.

Read More: Illuminating the flu: A new technology could make it easier for researchers to fight a host of diseases

Miller Receives Patent for Technology that Can Help Detect Flu

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Benjamin L. Miller, Ph.D., professor of Dermatology, recently received yet another patent for a new technology that can detect miniscule amounts of specific molecules in blood or other liquids. The patent focuses on using this technology to make detecting immune responses to the flu quicker and easier.

The AIR™ Platform, marketed by Adarza Biosystems, can detect immune responses to flu vaccines as well as the virus itself. With a small blood sample from a patient, doctors can confirm a flu infection, see if the patient mounts an appropriate immune response to a vaccine, or see if immune responses cross react with several different strains of flu. AIR™ can also be used for viral surveillance.

While Miller’s AIR™ system is not the first to make these things possible, it is a great improvement on previous technologies. Its silicon chip, which is only about the size of the end of a pencil eraser, allows scientists to detect hundreds of different target molecules in a single drop of fluid, and its “label-free” design requires fewer steps and reagents, thus reducing cost and opportunities for error.

“Label-free” systems suppress background noise to detect tiny signals, whereas conventional “labeled” systems use a more cumbersome design to amplify a tiny signal, often creating a lot of background noise in the process.

“It’s like walking through a city during the day and looking up at the buildings,” Miller said. “You have no idea what's going on in the offices because there's so much ambient light, but if you come back at night, it's easy to see.”

Miller suppresses background noise using a near-perfect anti-reflective coating on his silicon chips. For every 100 million photons of light that hit the surface of the chip, only one photon is reflected back. That coating also contains capture molecules meant to bind or “capture” specific target molecules, like antibodies produced in response to the flu virus. The more antibodies that bind to the chip, the more the anti-reflective coating is perturbed, and the more light is reflected and captured by a camera.

This simple and unconventional design and the ability to use capture molecules both big and small makes AIR™ extremely versatile. From cancer and infectious diseases, to agriculture and food safety, AIR™ is poised to expedite research and clinical testing across a wide range of applications.

The Future of Photonics

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

As hundreds of millions of dollar pour into Rochester to establish the nation's first Photonics Hub, Mark Gruba has a closer look at the technology in a News 8 special report, "The Future of Photonics."

Photonics is the science and technology of generating, controlling and detecting photons, which are particles of light. A display at the Rochester Museum & Science Center houses examples of its many applications. In one, a transmitter converts an audio signal from electrical pulses into light pulses. The laser beam sends that information to the receiver, which converts the light pulses back to electrical pulses and sends them to the speaker for your listening enjoyment.

"We work on optical bio sensors," said Dr. Ben Miller, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He's creating a sensor that can detect the presence of hundreds of viruses from a single blood sample, in real time. "We're working to make devices so that you can immediately get that information in the doctor's office," said Dr. Miller.

Read More: The Future of Photonics