Remember the last time you fell ill, and in the absence of an accurate diagnosis, your doctor continued with his prescription for viral fever—only for laboratory tests to prove later that the high fever was due to the dengue or typhoid virus? In order to give patients focused treatment right at the start of an illness, an increasing number of doctors are depending on point-of-care devices that can identify the exact strain of a virus within hours of a test.
Help at hand: BigTec’s point-of-care diagnostic kit.
“In the initial stages, many diseases exhibit common symptoms. For instance, low-grade fever and general malaise are also initial symptoms of jaundice. But they are rarely diagnosed as such until the yellowness spreads,” says Ashutosh Shukla, head, internal medicine, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. It is problems such as these that point-of-care diagnostic kits expect to resolve, allowing physicians to move from trial and error in the early stages of infection to a focused treatment schedule.
It is for such treatments that point-of-care-devices are gaining popularity. BigTec Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore-based biotechnology start-up, will soon launch a a diagnostic kit to detect Hepatitis B infection using DNA recognition technology. The kit can detect the pattern of the virus and provide an exact result within 15–20 minutes of a test. “Primarily this kit will use a blood sample from the patient,” says Chandrasekhar Nair, co-founder, BigTec. The start-up, according to its medical director B.K. Iyer, is working towards developing similar kits for other infectious diseases, such as chikungunya, malaria and dengue.
Later this month, Malaysia-based Geneflux Biosciences Pvt. Ltd will launch MyDenKit, which uses molecular diagnostics technology to check for all strains of dengue virus in a single test within a time span of 5 hours. The company also plans to launch another diagnostic kit, MursaFlux, which can detect the presence of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacterium in the blood. With just a single test, the results of which will be ready in 4-5 hours, the kit can detect three types of bacteria. If untreated, MRSA infection can lead to pneumonia, bone and joint infection, endocarditis or toxic shock syndrome, according to Prashanth G. Bagali, director and vice-president, science and technology, Geneflux Biosciences.
Medical practitioners say these kits, also referred to as “lab-on-a-chip”, can redefine diagnosis and treatment techniques. “These kits work well in conditions with low signal-to-noise ratio. It means they can detect diseases even before (the) symptoms are full-blown,” says Dr Shukla. He, however, cautions that these kits cannot be the sole basis for prescriptive treatment. “The human body is not an arithmetic model. Results of these tests have to be used in tandem with patient history and clinical examination.”
Apart from being useful in the treatment of infectious diseases, point-of-care-devices have many other benefits. For instance, the ViScope100, a cardiac anomaly indicator for physicians and cardiac specialists which was launched in India in 2008, gives an audio and visual display of the heart’s activity in real time and helps physicians screen for cardiac abnormalities and diseases such as valvular defects, septal defects and heart murmurs during regular consultation. “These devices provide complementary information in an audio-visual format and when such information confirms clinical findings, it is very reassuring”, says Srikanth Raghavan, consultant and director of paediatric cardiac services, Manipal Health Systems, which is promoted by the Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG), one of India’s leading providers of medical and education services.
Glucometers that help patients monitor their own blood glucose levels are another example of point-of-care devices. “Using a glucometer at home can result in a variation of between 10–15% in readings at times, but what it does very well is flag off a concern that a patient can then follow up by visiting a regular hospital”, says Suman R., consultant diabetologist, Madhu Neha Diabetic Centre, Bangalore. Later this year, Geneflux Biosciences will launch a third diagnostic kit, HaemFlux, to test for type 2 diabetes. “This kit is under validation in our laboratory in Malaysia using blood samples of 250 diabetes (type 2) patients, from three ethnic races, Chinese, Malays and Indians. We expect to launch this product by the end of 2009,” says Dr Bagali.
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