Device determines genetic predisposition to drug allergies

Scientists at Imperial College London spin-out DNA Electronics (DNAE) have successfully tested a prototype handheld device that they have developed to determine whether patients are genetically predisposed to suffering adverse reactions to prescription drugs.

The team believes that the success of a pilot study takes the device — the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) DR (pronounced ’Snip’ doctor) — one step closer to being used in the healthcare industry.

The SNP DR is a portable technology that gives real-time, accurate, on-the-spot test results for specific DNA sequences that may be used by doctors to indicate how people are likely to respond to certain drugs.

It works by analysing a patient’s Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms — DNA sequence variations that occur due to a single nucleotide alteration in the genome sequence. Doing so can indicate how people may respond to disease, bacteria, viruses, toxins and medication.

In use, the SNP DR device analyses Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in saliva samples, which are placed in a disposable cartridge and exposed to sensors inside the device. Copies of SNPs are also contained in the device and, if a match is detected, a message is displayed on the SNP DR’s handheld console.

The SNP DR will allow physicians to assess their patient in a GP clinic and tailor dosages and treatments accordingly, rather than sending samples to a laboratory for analysis, which is a costly and lengthy process that can delay therapies. At present, the real-time SNP DR takes approximately 30 minutes to analyse a sample.

Prof Chris Toumazou, chief scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, who is also the founder and chief executive of DNAE, said: ’The SNP DR could reduce the number of people admitted to hospital when medication goes wrong. Most importantly, it could also minimise the trauma and impact that repeat hospitalisation has on people, their families and the healthcare system.’

Researchers from DNAE collaborated with Imperial College London and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to develop and test the SNP DR detection module under a £1.2m project part funded by the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board, which began in 2008.

The next stage will see the team refining the technology so that more SNPs could be analysed by the SNP DR at once. This would mean that it could detect more complex reactions to drugs and also detect a range of diseases and bacterial infections.