Scientists at Imperial College London are testing a Star Trek-style instrument for its potential in ascertaining patients' genetic compatibility to various medicines.
The doctors say that the device, named the SNP (pronounced snip) Doctor, is the kind of gadget that might have been used by Dr Leonard McCoy in the original Star Trek TV series.
AdvertisementThey say that it can analyse DNA from a drop of saliva or cheek swab to tell whether a patient has the right genetic fit for a particular drug.
They reckon that the device may be available in the market between two and five.
The Snip Doctor looks for known single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), single letter changes in the genetic code, which can affect an individual's response to medical treatment.
The researchers point out that the unwanted side effects can vary in severity from dizziness and nausea to heart palpitations or loss of consciousness, and that being able to predict bad responses to drugs would allow doctors to tailor dosages and types of medication to individual patients.
Currently, the sample for test has to undergo some processing in a laboratory before being inserted into the prototype device.
However, the researchers say that the finished product will be an all-in-one device that can rapidly analyse a sample placed in its cartridge and flash the result up on a screen.
''Nothing can replace the expert advice your GP gives you. However, the Snip Doctor could provide another layer in the treatment process that could help GPs to personalise treatments according to the genetic requirements of each patient,'' the Telegraph quoted Professor Chris Toumazou, who heads the Imperial College team, as saying.
Dr Leila Shepherd, chief technology officer at DNA Electronics, said that such a device could help new drugs to reach patients.
''At the moment, some cancer-fighting drugs are deemed uneconomical because they only work for a certain subset of patients. If doctors had a method of screening patients to see whether these drugs work, then suddenly these therapies would be more cost effective to use,'' she said.
The researchers have revealed that the main focus of their study will be on how the Snip Doctor may detect genetic sequences linked to metabolism.
The 1.2 million-pound project is being partly funded by the Government's Technology and Strategy Board.
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