What is a DNA microchip? How does it work? What are the benefits?
Scientists know that a mutation - or alteration - in a particular gene's DNA often results in a certain disease. However, it can be very difficult to develop a test to detect these mutations, because most large genes have many regions where mutations can occur. For example, researchers believe that mutations in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 cause as many as 60 percent of all cases of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. But there is not one specific mutation responsible for all of these cases. Researchers have already discovered over 800 different mutations in BRCA1 alone.
The DNA microchip is a new tool used to identify mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2. The chip, which consists of a small glass plate encased in plastic, is manufactured somewhat like a computer microchip. On the surface, each chip contains thousands of short, synthetic, single-stranded DNA sequences, which together add up to the normal gene in question.
Microchips are being developed that speed up DNA analysis which could help treat bacterial infections in future. It was used to identify the rare strain of E. coli that infected more than 3,000 people in Germany - the first time "genomics" have been used to identify the characteristics of a bug during an outbreak.
If a person has a particular kind of bacterial infection, we can find the DNA sequence of the bacteria and then choose an antibiotic which specifically targets that kind of bacteria, rather than giving a broad spectrum antibiotic.
Genetic tests are increasingly used to help doctors target medicines more accurately, but analysing them remains a long and expensive process.A new kind of DNA machine that uses a microchip can analyse DNA in just hours. DNA analysis in lab still takes about two weeks, but we can see a future where that time will be cut dramatically and DNA tests will be far more common.
One of the objectives is to make DNA sequencing much cheaper than it is today. If it becomes cheaper its use will become more widespread.It heralds a future where faster, cheaper DNA sequencers could be common in surgeries and clinics.
The power of these genetic tests are going to be in determining which drugs we will be treated with and at what dosage, determined by our genetics and how well we metabolise drugs.