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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / September 2016 / New Technologies May Speed Flu Vaccine Testing

New Technologies May Speed Flu Vaccine Testing

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

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.  The flu that affects humans almost always comes from animals that get the virus first.  Surveillance efforts, which include collecting blood samples from certain populations of wild animals, are designed to predict what flu strains are most likely to be contracted by humans during the next season. These predictions are used to develop vaccines that will confer immunity to the strains that pose the greatest threat.

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.

Cityscape day and night

“Label-free” systems suppress background noise in order 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,” says Miller. “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 hits 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 University of Rochester Medical Center is home to approximately 3,000 individuals who conduct research on everything from cancer and heart disease to Parkinson’s, pandemic influenza and autism. Spread across many centers, institutes, and labs, our scientists have developed therapies that have improved human health locally, in the region, and across the globe. To learn more, visit http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/research.

AIR™ influenza technology was developed by Benjamin Miller, Ph.D., at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Both Dr. Miller and the University own equity in Adarza Biosystems, which markets AIR™.  Dr. Miller serves on the company’s Board of Directors and is Chair of its Scientific Advisory Board.  

 

Susanne Pritchard Pallo | 9/12/2016

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