Brave new biometric world: Intel helps diagnose Lupus, arthritis
9/20/2012 8:56 PM EDT
Intel inside is about to take on a whole new biological meaning, as the worlds of information technology and biomedical science collide.
Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner says the firm’s research and development teams are making breakthroughs using semiconductors to synthesize and study disease-associated proteins.
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Rattner said people didn’t expect to see Intel in the biomedical field, but described the ongoing research being done alongside Stanford University’s medical center as "very important." A paper on the study has already been published in Nature of Medicine journal.
The researchers have been synthesizing short segments of biological proteins, called peptides, on silicon wafers using some of the same methods used in semiconductor manufacturing, including sequential steps of light exposure and photolithography.
The chip, dubbed an Intel array by researchers, can analyze thousands of protein interactions simultaneously, allowing it to detect those associated with certain diseases and their variations. This in turn makes it easier for doctors to determine what drugs would be most effective for a particular patient, assess various therapies and for researchers to design ever more-effective drugs.
Understanding how proteins interact within the human body is something that has historically taken a lot of time, so this research is something of a breakthrough in terms of getting results in at very high speeds.
Diagnosing diseases like Lupus used to be very hard, sometimes taking years, but Rattner said this new system allows doctors to take blood samples and have results back "literally in a matter of minutes."
Rattner called the progress a "brave new world by anybody’s measure," noting that it's not just a question of collecting the data and crunching some numbers, but having information technology and biotechnology physically meet. "That’s very exciting," he said.
"We’re getting to the point where information technology and biotechnology are getting up close and personal and it just promises great things for healthcare," he added.
Another disease that could be more decisively diagnosed and treated using this method is arthritis. With over 30 different types of arthritis, doctors can have a tough time knowing which particular variation a person is suffering from.
"Most doctors will never actually know which one a patient has, until we can identify the different types of proteins associated with the different types of arthritis," Rattner explained.
The best most patients can currently hope for is to get a prescription for anti-inflammatories, but Rattner said in the near future, physicians would be able to know exactly what type of arthritis they are dealing with, and which specific treatments are needed to treat it.
"That’s what this fusion of information technology and biotechnology will give us," he said.