Bacterial analysis with beads

The engineers behind a tiny testing system that uses magnetic bead technology to isolate and identify harmful food-borne bacteria hope to begin full-scale production soon.

Welsh instruments manufacturer Picosorb, which developed the ‘laboratory in a matchbox’ bio-diagnostic device, said a UK equipment manufacturer – which it declined to identify – plans to release the system commercially under its own name.The system, being tested in hospitals in Cardiff and Liverpool, aims to speed up the bacterial analysis process, an important factor in halting outbreaks of food poisoning before they get out of hand.

The small disposable cartridge binds bacteria from contaminated samples to magnetic beads, which are themselves captured by small magnets built into the system. Chemical reagents are then automatically applied, creating a luminescence that can be detected via optical electronic analysis to check for pathogens such as Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella and Clostridium.

The system is controlled and monitored via a standard PC equipped with custom-developed software, meaning analysis can be carried out on-site at the point of contamination.

This reduces analysis to within a working day, allowing treatment and appropriate anti-contamination measures to start immediately, said Caernarvon-based Picosorb. The minimal manual intervention needed to operate the system also reduces the risk of infection to those carrying out the analysis, it claimed.

Picosorb has just received a second round of support from venture fund Finance Wales – which also took a financial stake in the company – to develop further applications for the system. It has also received backing from national funding body NESTA.

Barry Jones, Picosorb’s sales and marketing manager, said that this will mainly focus on the potential of the company’s magnetic technology to aid the isolation and extraction of DNA samples.

According to Jones, contamination of DNA with extraneous matter is a particular problem at the point of extraction. ‘Because the instrument is self-contained, contamination is less of an issue.’

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