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STMicroelectronics, Europe’s second-largest chipmaker, and Veredus Laboratories of Singapore plan to launch a disposable laboratory chip that will be able to diagnose avian flu in an hour.

The two companies are preparing to start clinical trials of the chip and hope to bring it to the market in the fourth quarter, in time for the next influenza season.

ST said the chip would be able to analyse a minute blood sample to detect the presence of DNA from the H5N1 avian flu virus. Results can be displayed on a portable laptop, making it easier to perform checks in the field. Currently, samples have to be sent to specialist laboratories for testing, which can take several days.

Anton Hofmeister, general manager of ST’s Microfluidics division, which has been working on diagnostic chips such as these for the past five years, said the chip would also bring down the cost of testing for avian flu.

A testing system would cost less than $10,000, compared with several hundred thousand dollars for lab equipment. The cost for each individual disposable chip would be in the “tens of dollars”, Mr Hofmeister said.

The H5N1 avian flu virus has killed at least 79 people since 2003, according to figures from the World Health Organisation, which do not include most recent cases in Turkey and Indonesia. The WHO said a device that allowed rapid diagnosis of the virus would be important in containing the disease.

The chip would be the second product to emerge from ST’s Microfluidics division. Last September the company announced a similar chip which can detect sepsis, a bacterial blood disease.

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