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Southampton scientists race to deliver DNA swine flu test

October 16, 2015

University of Southampton spin-out company PrimerDesign specialises in producing high-tech DNA detection kits. The technology detects results faster and more accurately than traditional diagnosis techniques. The company was founded by University of Southampton scientists and is part of the University's SETsquared Business Incubation programme.

Staff at the PrimerDesign laboratories realised they were ideally positioned to create the first DNA swine flu test when the US Centre for Disease Control published the genetic data for the killer virus this week.

Coordinator of the swine flu DNA project, Dr Rob Powell said, "With the release of the unique genetic code for this dangerous virus strain we're able to develop the ultimate diagnosis tool within the next few days.

"At PrimerDesign we're able to produce synthetic DNA that matches the virus exactly, without ever having to come into contact with the flu itself. The test can identify the presence of swine flu within two hours."

The high-tech production methods of the kits mean that the Southampton team could very quickly produce enough test kits for hospitals across Europe if needed. The kits will be fully developed and ready to go within two weeks.

PrimerDesign Ltd already produces genetic detection kits for numerous other viruses and conditions; it is possible that this could be the first DNA diagnosis for the Mexican swine flu anywhere in the world.

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While past work has focused on delivery of siRNAs with liposomes, bubble-like carriers made of phospholipids similar to those found in cell membranes, liposomes are potentially more toxic to the mucosal tissues and are unable to provide sustained release. In the current work, the researchers demonstrated that PLGA nanoparticles were safer than the best current lipid vehicles.

Gene interference therapy is moving rapidly from basic research to application. The PLGA packaging these researchers chose is already approved as safe and non-toxic by the FDA, speeding the path to clinical trials for infectious agents such as HPV and HIV.

"Before human clinical testing can begin, our next step in research will be to test this approach directly in disease models - for example in the HIV model mice that have an immune system genetically identical to humans," said senior author W. Mark Saltzman, the Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering & Chemical Engineering.

This approach holds promise for global health and the ability of people to self-apply antimicrobial treatments. Woodrow said, "It is safe and effective and much easier than getting an injection of vaccine."

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