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Global Flu Monitoring With The New “Flu Chip”

written by: MandaSpring • edited by: Anurag Ghosh • updated: 11/9/2009

Outbreaks of the flu virus can happen at any time and usually have serious complications for small children, infants and the elderly. A new “flu chip” offers a global monitoring system to aid in preventative care.

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    The Importance of Identifying Strains of the Flu

    The flu virus is an ugly thing. Flu epidemics and pandemics have caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. But now, modern technology has an advantage they have never had before in what is called the “flu chip.” This revolutionary testing can save lives by locating and identifying various strains of flu. The flu is so dangerous because it is consistently changing and mutating.

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    What is The Flu Chip?

    “The Flu Chip fits on a microscope slide and contains an array of microscopic spots. Genetic bits of information that are complimentary to known, individual influenza strains are "spotted" robotically in an array, where each row of three spots contains a specific sequence of "capture" DNA. Each spot is approximately one-hundredth of an inch in diameter. The microarray is then immersed in a wash of influenza gene fragments obtained from the fluid of an infected individual.” (Quoted by lead researcher Rowlen, courtesy of News-Medical.Net).

    This joint effort was made possible by the hard work of the following scientists and researchers: Professor Kathy Rowlen of the University of Colorado (leads the team), Erica Dawson, Daniela Dankbar, Martin Mehlman, Chad Moore, James Smagala, Michael Townsend, Amy Reppert, CDC Influenza Branch Chief Dr. Nancy Cox and CDC researcher Catherine Smith.

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    Using the Flu Chip to Detect and Monitor Influenza Strains and More

    Besides the obvious reasons such as monitoring outbreaks to save lives and expense, for normal strains of flu that rear their ugly heads throughout flu seasons there are a few other ways that this technology can help us out.

    We have all heard of the Avian flu ('bird flue') and H1N1 flue ('swine flu), right? Well, this flu chip can be able to detect these strains of the flu in remote areas and farms… basically anywhere scientists are able test.

    Researchers have also said that reconfigured models can assist in “Global surveillance of any RNA virus, including SARS, measles, HIV and hepatitis C.”

    Professor Kathy Rowlen of the University of Colorado had this to say: "This new technology should help provide better global influenza surveillance by making it easier for more laboratories to swiftly identify severe flu strains, which in turn may aid health officials to stem potential flu epidemics and even pandemics."

    There is also another way this flu chip can provide essential help, and that is in the event of viral warfare. We are fully capable of engineering mutated strains of the flu virus as biological weapons. This flu chip technology can test for it and confirm the DNA make up of the strains being used should this event ever actually take place. This can cut down a lot of research time.