Dr Jo-Ann Stanton and Paul Pickering with a handheld DNA diagnostic unit, connected to a smartphone, unveiled in Queenstown yesterday. Photo by David Williams.
A life-saving hand-held device developed at the University of
Otago to quickly detect viruses and bacteria is set to go
global - and millions could be sold.
The ''revolutionary'' device, dubbed Freedom4, was launched
in Queenstown yesterday and allows specialists to make a
diagnosis, by identifying target DNA sequences, without the
need for samples to be taken back to the lab.
Department of anatomy researcher Dr Jo-Ann Stanton, who led
its development, said this could save lives by saving
valuable time in the event of a viral outbreak.
''What it means is that you could go to the site of an
outbreak and very rapidly set up ... diagnostic tests, which
are usually done in the central laboratory.''
The device would initially be aimed at researchers and vets
for use on animals, but could be used for human diagnosis
once approved by the United States Food and Drug
To sell the device to the world, the university's
commercialisation arm, Otago Innovation, partnered New
Zealand company Ubiquitome.
Ubiquitome chief executive Paul Pickering was ''very
excited'' about the product and envisaged a future where
consumers could use the device in their homes, with the
results being sent, via seamless digital transfer, to their
GP or other medical professionals.
''We see this as being potentially a very important component
of the delivery of what we would call high-precision
If this vision eventuated, the product could sell
''millions'' and take a ''big chunk'' of a
''multibillion-dollar'' global market.
This would provide a boost to the Dunedin economy, with the
university a ''cornerstone shareholder''.
''We plan on maintaining an engineering and development
capability in the Dunedin area.''
It was also possible parts of the device could be
manufactured in Dunedin.
Mr Pickering, previously an executive at United States
biotechnology company Life Technologies, said the device was
an example of world-class innovation and it was rare to come
across an idea developed with such ''thought and finesse''.
Dr Stanton said the product showed Dunedin was a place where
cutting-edge technology could be developed.
She had an ''incredibly talented'' team working on the
project during the past six years.
It had received engineering help from Dunedin businesses,
including Mosgiel-based Jtech Plastics Ltd.
The unit weighs the same as a laptop, has a six-hour battery
life, and fits in the palm of your hand.
It can be tethered to a laptop, or connect wirelessly to
smartphones or tablets running custom software that analyse
and interpret the test results.
Dr Stanton said a prototype had been independently tested by
the New Zealand Institute of Environmental and Scientific
Research and was found to perform on a par with much larger
laboratory-based DNA analysis systems.
''This mobility could provide a great boon for farmers.
"For instance, vets could drive around a farm analysing
samples from various locations, make their diagnoses and
treat infected animals - all in one trip.''
The first orders would likely be shipped this year, she said.
The device takes advantage of a technology called
quantitative PCR to identify target DNA sequences in
real-time, without the need for further processing.