Sun, Oct 22, 2023 12:00 PM

Chipping away at rural time constraints


William Woodworth

Crucial health decisions in remote regions are being revolutionised, thanks to a business founded in a Marlborough garage.

DNAiTECH’s Dr Murray Broom has developed a new approach for pathogen diagnostics, focused on delivery of agritech, environmental and biomedical diagnostic tests where they are needed in the field.

This means infections can be quickly identified at the point of care.

DNAiTECH uses a DNA sequence amplifying method and reader technology - and the powerful chemistry is incorporated into a small credit card sized diagnostic chip.

The advantage of point-of-care is saving time and avoiding the spread of disease, Murray says.

For instance, within apiculture, American foulbrood (AFB) is a notifiable disease and affected hives must be burnt. For rural beekeepers a test performed at the hive will enable more effective disease containment, minimising economic loss and preventing spread.

“The remote location of hives means conventional laboratory testing can take days before the results are received and point-of-care testing will be a game changer - with DNAiTECH’s solution, the test is taken to the problem”, explains Murray.

DNAiTECH’s system enables screening of four gene sequences simultaneously rapidly distinguishing, for example, a Staphylococcus that is MRSA from MSSA.

“MSSA can be treated by penicillin derivatives, whereas MRSA requires last resort antibiotics like Vancomycin,” Murray says.

“So distinguishing MRSA from MSSA in small primary care clinics without existing diagnostic services will both save lives and prevent the overuse of last resort antibiotics, something which is critical with the rise in antibiotic resistant pathogens.”

Results in the field make a big difference to the speed of treatment

The company won the 2023 Cawthron Marlborough Environment Supreme Award.

Judges were impressed with their technology’s innovative environmental applications, the system’s ease of use, and their commitment to engaging young scientists.

Murray is eager to progress the technology to the next level.

“The next phase is expensive, and we’ve got to where we are on the smell of an oily rag through our own investment in the business and multiple grants.

“However, we want DNAiTech to deliver on our goal of creating equitable diagnostic opportunities wherever in the world where pathogens threaten people’s livelihoods, products and businesses”.

Unlike other developers, DNAiTECH has integrated this system into chips using the porous qualities of paper, resulting in a low-cost, rapid, highly portable diagnostic system with huge application potential.

Point-of-care diagnostics are familiar to many as the Covid-19 RAT tests, but DNAiTech’s testing approaches using amplifying strategies. Photocopying a target DNA sequence billions of times, are much more powerful tools for sensitive diagnostics.

“The use of ‘LAMP’ and ‘CRISPR’ on paper means that positive tests are bright like neon lights, and our diagnostic systems will be portable, battery powered, able to be deployed into the remotest of locations or drone deliverable with positive results readable by naked eye or smartphone”, says Murray.

“Using our PLACID system, the remotest clinics can test for diseases themselves and obtain results quickly without relying on distant labs.

“The paper approach means systems will be low cost, and we have a real opportunity to deliver equitable diagnostics systems in resource limited locations”.

Dr Murray Broom has been researching DNA sequence ampilifying methods to make tests mobile.

The technology platform is advancing rapidly, and the system is operational in prototype form. While both scientists are molecular biologists, the work requires them to wear multiple hats, including engineering, designing, and building devices daily using their rapid prototyping laser technology.

DNAiTECH’s first product is S-TECH, a universal DNA extraction system which is already being used by universities and researchers.

S-TECH, and diagnostic prototypes, have been involved in AFB and varroa mite detection programs funded by the Ministry for Primary Industry for Apiculture, Callaghan Innovation for biomedical tests, and Lincoln Plant and Food Institute developing tests examining fungi and bacterial loads and ratio in soil samples – having also worked for Auckland Council on Kauri Dieback detection.

Research and Development Scientist Dr Calum Morris says he’s enjoying the opportunity to be hands-on with the development of new technologies.

“I’ve been focused on the designs of incorporating the tests into the paper chips and tweaking the diagnostic platform’s incorporation to the point we are at today.

“The proactive hands-on side of what we are doing is really appealing - developing the whole system and building the technology ourselves has been a new side to science to me and the methods we’re doing are a major step forward with so many possibilities”.

Glossary of Terms

LAMP - Loop‐mediated isothermal amplification

CRISPR - Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (within genetic material)

PLACID - Paper-based LAMP-CRISPR integrated diagnostic

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