While medical technology and healthcare standards have improved significantly over the past century, tropical diseases continue to pose a major threat to human health. At present, vaccines are unavailable for many major tropical infections such as dengue fever and hand, foot and mouth disease. Increased exploration of tropical rainforests, international air travel, tourism to tropical regions and human migration have also led to a rising incidence of tropical diseases. Accordingly, the rapid and accurate detection of such diseases is more important than ever to facilitate prompt treatment and prevent potential pandemics.
In collaboration with Veredus Laboratories Pte Ltd, a leading supplier of innovative molecular diagnostic tools, a team of researchers from the A*STAR Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) have created the VereChip™, a biochip that can identify 13 different major tropical diseases — including dengue fever, chikungunya, hand, foot and mouth disease, and malaria — from a single blood sample.
The biochip itself forms the core of the VereTrop™ diagnostic kit. Lisa Ng, the project’s lead virologist at SIgN, explains that the kit’s high level of automation and efficiency are the reasons why VereTrop™ is poised to revolutionize the quality of testing for tropical infectious diseases. “Tropical diseases often reflect common symptoms like fever and may not be accurately diagnosed at an early stage by doctors. This portable diagnostic kit allows accurate testing of multiple pathogenic targets from just one blood sample in a matter of hours — compared to days or even weeks for current methods,” says Ng.
Together with Laurent Renia, an expert in the immunobiology of malaria at SIgN, the team successfully validated the kit with patient samples collected and tested in rural regions of the Thai–Myanmar border in northern Thailand. Due to its highly automated nature, laboratory personnel can be trained to operate the VereTrop™ kit in just one day. “This innovation opens up new possibilities for the accurate and rapid diagnosis of important infectious diseases that remain the major causes of illness in the tropics,” says François Nosten, director of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in Thailand and clinical expert on the team. “VereTrop™’s versatility and ease of use will no doubt change the approach to diagnostics at the periphery of the health care system.”
The VereTrop™ diagnostic kit is the latest in a line of success stories born of the relationship between Veredus Laboratories and A*STAR. “We have worked on several collaborative projects, including diagnostic technology for influenza and malaria, dating back to 2004,” says Rosemary Tan, CEO of Veredus Laboratories. “VereTrop™ is another testament to the fruitful collaboration.” The partners are now planning to register the biochip as an in vitro diagnostic product as early as next year.
Philip Lim, CEO of ETPL (Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd), the technology transfer arm of A*STAR, praises the success of the project and describes the novel biochip as the perfect example of a public–private partnership. “After a journey of more than three years, we are glad that such a compelling, technologically advanced product with global healthcare benefits is ready to be launched onto the market. The creation of the VereTrop™ kit is proof that local companies can work with A*STAR to achieve a competitive edge globally.”
About the Singapore Immunology Network
The Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) was launched by A*STAR with the aim of expanding and strengthening immunology research in Singapore by advancing human immunology research and participating in international efforts to combat major health problems. Researchers at SIgN investigate immunity during infections and inflammatory conditions, including cancer, using mouse models and human tissue and integrate the findings into clinical applications. Since its launch, SIgN has grown rapidly, and currently includes around 250 scientists from 26 countries working under 28 renowned principal investigators and supported by cutting-edge technological research platforms and core services.
About Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd
Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL) is the technology transfer arm of A*STAR. Its mission is to support A*STAR in transforming the economy through commercializing R&D. ETPL enhances the research output of A*STAR scientists by translating their inventions into marketable products or processes. Through licensing deals and spin-offs with industry partners, ETPL is a key driver of technology transfer in Singapore. It actively engages industry leaders and players to commercialize A*STAR’s technologies and capabilities, bridging the gap from mind to market. ETPL’s charter is to identify, protect and exploit promising intellectual property created by A*STAR’s research institutes, and apply them to benefit business, industry and economy.
About Veredus Laboratories Pte Ltd
Veredus Laboratories Pte Ltd was founded in 2003 and launched its first products in 2005. Veredus is a Singapore-based majority-owned subsidiary of STMicroelectronics, a global semiconductor leader serving customers across the spectrum of electronics applications. Veredus specializes in the development, manufacture and marketing of innovative multiplexed molecular solutions in the clinical, specialty, and custom testing markets based on STMicroelectronics’ proprietary ‘Lab-on-Chip’ platform. The Lab-on-Chip platform, marketed as the VerePLEX™ Biosystem, combines microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) with microfluidics to integrate multiplexed DNA amplification with microarray detection for rapid, cost-effective and accurate analysis of biological materials.