Singapore scientists develop rapid, comprehensive bird flu test kit

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Scientists in Singapore have developed a bird flu test kit that can detect all the existing strains of the H5N1 viruses rapidly in a single test, the Agency for Science and Technology Research said on Tuesday.

The test kit, which has been clinically validated by several hospitals in Southeast Asia, allows the test to be completed within a few hours with almost 100 percent accuracy, the agency said in a joint press release together with the Tan Tock Seng Hospital and private firms involved in the development.

The current standard for H5N1 detection recommended by the World Health Organization is only able to detect three out of the 10 distinct genetic groups.

"Our technology has greatly simplified and accelerated the process of detection and identification of new H5N1 variants. Such information is especially critical when the virus mutates to become more dangerous, such as in drug resistance," said Masafumi Inoue, a senior research scientist from the Experimental Therapeutics Center of the Agency for Science and Technology Research who was involved in the development of the kit.

Inoue co-developed the kit with Timothy Barkham, a senior consultant of Laboratory Medicine from the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

A local provider of genomic services and molecular diagnostics kits has recently signed a licence agreement with Exploit Technologies, the technology transfer arm of Agency for Science and Technology Research, to market the test kit in the region.

The bird flu virus, or Avian Influenza virus, usually affects birds but not the humans. However, highly contagious strains like H5N1 Avian Influenza A virus have been reported to be able to jump from birds to humans and sometimes result in death cases.

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