Success Story

Argonne Biochip Advances Medical Diagnostics, Forensics, Pet Care, and More


In their fight against virulent diseases such as cancer, doctors have recently gained an impressive new weapon to add to their arsenal. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed a chip that can save lives by diagnosing certain diseases even before patients become symptomatic.

The technology is a biochip system aimed at rapid detection of emerging diseases by protein and DNA analysis. The new technology consists of a one-centimeter by one-centimeter array that comprises anywhere between several dozen and several hundred “dots,” or small drops. Each of these drops contains a unique protein, antibody, or nucleic acid that will attach to a particular DNA sequence or antigen indicating aberration from a healthy person.

This technology includes a method for gel-drop-based sequencing by hybridization on the chip and a low-cost biochip reader. A portion of this technology is the product of joint research between Argonne and the Englehardt Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow. Other partners have included the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Akonni Biosystems, Eprogen, Inc., Safeguard Biosystems, Motorola, Perkin-Elmer (Packard Instruments), and Aurora Photonics.

Potential applications include use in handheld point-of-care devices located in physician offices, hospitals, clinics, and field use.

The technology is capable of identifying causative pathogens and associated antibiotic resistance within 120 minutes of sample collection. It is also capable of identifying common cancer biomarkers and a wide variety of infections, such as those caused by multidrugresistant tuberculosis and the often deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Benefits of this technology include faster genetic testing (minutes), multiplexing, small footprint (1 square centimeter), minimal sample volume (less than 5 microliters), increased sensitivity and specificity, and lower cost.

The medical diagnosis technology has been developed to the point where it is now available for commercial licensing. To date, it has been licensed to three startup companies. One company (Akonni Biosystems) has sales of DNA extraction kits, and the technology is in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trials for use as a point-of-care human diagnostic instrument. Another company (Eprogen, Inc.) is using it to search for biomarkers indicating cancer. Another (Safeguard Biosystems) is using it for veterinary diagnostic applications. FDA trials are underway.

Efforts will continue to improve the product’s marketability to the point where it is routinely used in physician offices, emergency rooms, and veterinary centers.

Recent research has expanded the application of this technology to microbial forensics, including bioterrorism. The biochip technology provides information on how a biological agent was grown, purified, and prepared for dissemination. This information can then be used to develop a profile of the perpetrator’s expertise and resources, thereby narrowing the pool of potential suspects. A patent application has been submitted for this technology in partnership with Loyola University Medical Center.