New device can extract human DNA with full genetic data in minutes

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Posted May 7, 2013
This is the hand-held device for extracting DNA. Credit: UW/NanoFacture/KNR

This is the hand-held device for extracting DNA. Credit: UW/NanoFacture/KNR

Take a swab of saliva from your mouth and within minutes your DNA could be ready for analysis and genome sequencing with the help of a new device.

University of Washington engineers and NanoFacture, a Bellevue, Wash., company, have created a device that can extract human DNA from fluid samples in a simpler, more efficient and environmentally friendly way than conventional methods.

The device will give hospitals and research labs a much easier way to separate DNA from human fluid samples, which will help with genome sequencing, disease diagnosis and forensic investigations.

This is a close-up view of the portable device. Credit: UW/NanoFacture/KNR

This is a close-up view of the portable device. Credit: UW/NanoFacture/KNR

“It’s very complex to extract DNA,” said Jae-Hyun Chung, a UW associate professor of mechanical engineering who led the research. “When you think of the current procedure, the equivalent is like collecting human hairs using a construction crane.”

This technology aims to clear those hurdles. The small, box-shaped kit now is ready for manufacturing, then eventual distribution to hospitals and clinics. NanoFacture, a UW spinout company, signed a contract with Korean manufacturer KNR Systems last month at a ceremony in Olympia, Wash.

The UW, led by Chung, spearheaded the research and invention of the technology, and still manages the intellectual property.

Separating DNA from bodily fluids is a cumbersome process that’s become a bottleneck as scientists make advances in genome sequencing, particularly for disease prevention and treatment. The market for DNA preparation alone is about $3 billion each year.

Conventional methods use a centrifuge to spin and separate DNA molecules or strain them from a fluid sample with a micro-filter, but these processes take 20 to 30 minutes to complete and can require excessive toxic chemicals.

UW engineers designed microscopic probes that dip into a fluid sample – saliva, sputum or blood – and apply an electric field within the liquid. That draws particles to concentrate around the surface of the tiny probe. Larger particles hit the tip and swerve away, but DNA-sized molecules stick to the probe and are trapped on the surface. It takes two or three minutes to separate and purify DNA using this technology.

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