Learning from the NIST archives

February 10, 2011


Recently I learned about the US National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST)  Technology Innovation Program (TIP) for encouraging the commercial development of new technologies. TIP was founded in 2007 and replaced the former Advanced Technology Program (ATP).


The TIP program is an exciting potential funding source for microfluidics/BioMEMS development (depending on the yearly choice of competition topic). However, what I find especially intriguing are the status reports on past projects, including failures. The failures are most interesting since people don’t talk about failure much.


Each project is even given a composite score on a 0-to-4 scale — if you wanted to, you could select and read all the 0 and 1 star reports to see what went wrong! The database of past ATP reports is a little tricky to search, but below are a few cases to get started with:


Case study: Dupont DNA Diagnostic for Testing of Food-borne Bacteria — 0 stars (emphasis added)


DuPont FQMS Group (later called DuPont Qualicon) believed that food-borne bacteria could be tested more quickly and less expensively by an automated system that combined polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and capillary electrophoresis. The research group sought to miniaturize and automate the testing process to meet strong consumer demand for improvements in the safety of the U.S. food supply. In 1995, ATP awarded cost-shared funding to DuPont to develop an automated system that would reduce testing time to improve food quality for consumers, as well as provide benefits to the agriculture and forensics industries.


DuPont built a functioning prototype that reduced testing time from 3 hours to approximately 30 minutes. The company was awarded one patent based on this technology, but additional steps were required in sample preparation that negated the time saved in analysis. DuPont Qualicon ended the research into this automated system in 1998, but the company did apply some of the automation knowledge gained in this project to its ongoing alternate food-borne pathogen-testing technologies.



Sample preparation time has improved with technology. As of 2004, DuPont Qualicon is able to prepare food samples for DNA testing in about 8 hours (a threefold to sixfold reduction). As miniaturized electronics become more common, it is expected that DuPont will reevaluate the advances it achieved in microfluidics during this project.


Other cases of interest from the 1998 DNA Diagnostics competition (it’s like a time machine back to the 20th century!):

  • Xtrana:  A Multi-Use, Self-Contained Nucleic Acid Detection Device — 1 star

  • Vysis (Abbott): Bar Code Diagnostics for DNA Analysis — 0 stars

  • Third Wave of Technologies: Cleavase Technology Reduces Cost and Shortens Time of Genetic Analysis–4 stars

  • GeneTrace Systems: Development of Rapid DNA Medical Diagnostics –3 stars

  • Affymetrix (GE Healthcare): Helping to Decode the Genome –4 stars

  • …and more










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