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GeneBalls: barcoding DNA


Millions of genetic tests using just one drop of blood.

Queensland PhD student Angus Johnston has invented a unique technology with the potential to test for hundreds of diseases, cancers and genes in one, cheap, test. He hopes that within five years the technology will be available in a desktop unit for less than AU$30,000. “This is a unique, patented technology that has the potential to revolutionise genetic testing,” said Angus Johnston, PhD student and co-inventor of the technology. “A simple machine could be installed in a doctor’s surgery which would give almost instantaneous feedback on which diseases the patient is susceptible.”

GeneBalls would not only help diagnosing cancer and other diseases, but also give an early warning for diseases like heart disease. With this early warning the patient can make lifestyle changes before any symptoms occur.

Geneballs can currently look at 12 genes in one test, but in the next 12 months we plan to increase this number to tens or hundreds of thousands. The existing technology, is too expensive and inaccurate for clinical applications.

Angus is one of 16 early-career scientists presenting their research to the public for the first time thanks to Fresh Science. The researcher who best meets the criteria of the national competition will present their work in the UK courtesy of British Council Australia.

It’s been an exciting journey for the student researcher. “I’ve had the opportunity to do a PhD that’s led to direct commercial outcomes,” says Angus. “It has given me two international patents and a shareholding in a company which is commercialising the technology.”

GeneBalls are tiny particles one tenth the diameter of a human hair and work like a barcode on items in a supermarket.

Each tiny bead contains a mixture of fluorescent dyes and is coated with DNA. If a patient has DNA the same as DNA on one of the GeneBalls, their DNA will stuck to the GeneBall.

Niall Byrne | alfa
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