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Rapid, Automated Bio-Detection and its Application to Bio-Terrorism Defense
PARC Forum

10 October 2002
George E. Pake Auditorium

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Current state-of-the-art in the detection and identification of biological organisms is culturing, invented almost 150 years ago by Louis Pasteur. Culturing typically requires several days or longer to obtain a result. Although methods in molecular biology and DNA analysis now exist which allow rapid and sensitive detection, identification, and characterization of microbes, they require expensive, hands-on biological processing by a skilled molecular biologist. In order to bring these technologies to widespread general use, a new instrument platform has been developed which automatically performs all the complex steps required to realize molecular diagnostics using DNA and RNA. This platform, Cepheid's GeneXpert, is currently deployed in a US Postal Service pilot program, detecting bio-threat agents such as anthrax spores in the US mail. Other applications in development are the detection of human infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, agricultural and veterinary diseases, and cancer. This ability to rapidly detect and analyse DNA, the universal biological identifier, will radically transform the future practice of biology and medicine.


Kurt Petersen obtained his BA degree from UC Berkeley in 1970 and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975, all in EECS. After working at IBM Research in San Jose for 7 years, he became involved in the founding of several start-up companies in the field of MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems). His 1982 paper in the Proceedings of the IEEE, "Silicon as a Mechanical Material", is still the most referenced review paper in the field. In 1996, he co-founded Cepheid. Cepheid uses advanced microfluidics, micro-instrumentation, microbiology, and molecular diagnostics to rapidly identify DNA and RNA from raw biological samples, such as blood, urine, or tissue. Dr. Petersen is a Fellow of the IEEE and the winner of the IEEE Simon Ramo Medal for his contributions to the commercialization of MEMS. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering. In 2002, he was selected as one of the Top Ten Innovators of the Year by Red Herring magazine.


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