Swine flu test unveiled

A team of genetics experts at a Southampton University spin-out is working against the clock to produce the world’s first DNA test for the Mexican strain of swine flu.

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 in 2005 by Southampton University 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 and Prevention published the genetic data for the killer virus this week.

Co-ordinator of the swine flu DNA project, and managing director of the company 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 Southampton team could very quickly produce enough test kits for hospitals across Europe if needed.

The kits will be fully developed and ready to ship within two weeks; it is possible that this could be the first DNA diagnosis for the Mexican swine flu anywhere in the world.

The influenza virus (human swine influenza A(H1N1) has been found to contain genes from pig, bird and human influenza viruses in a combination that has never been observed before anywhere in the world

People become infected with the virus in the same way as with the normal seasonal influenza. It spreads from person to person via droplets from an infected person who is coughing and sneezing.