Carlsbad Device Helped Detect Swine Flu

Health officials say it’s crucial to uncover a flu outbreak early, and stories on Science magazine’s ScienceInsider blog and in the San Diego Union-Tribune reveal how technology developed in the San Diego area helped local officials do just that during the current swine flu outbreak.

The Ibis T5000 biosensor system, which allows rapid identification and characterization of viruses and other microbes, was developed in Carlsbad by Ibis Biosciences, which was acquired in January 2009 by Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT). The device, the Union-Tribune recounts, helped scientists at at San Diego’s Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) identify one of the two first U.S. cases of swine flu, in a 9-year-old girl who was seen in a community clinic in Brawley, CA. Around the same time, the CDC identified swine flu in a sample taken from a 10-year-old boy who was seen at the San Diego Naval Medical Center.

Developed with government funding, the T5000 is a six-foot-long, three-foot tall machine with a price tag of almost half million dollars. Launched two years ago, it’s still for research only, though Abbott has asked for government approval to permit its sale as a diagnostic device. The T5000 incorporates a mass spectrometer, and it characterizes a sample in approximately five hours, compared to the days it takes with conventional techniques, Abbott Molecular vice president Stafford O’Kelly told the Union-Tribune. ScienceInsider gives a great history of how the first two U.S. cases of swine flu were identified and of the federal disease-surveillance program that used the Ibis technology, in part, to help pull off the feat.

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