Current molecular diagnostic tests are expensive and complex, requiring extensive infrastructure such as centralized laboratories and highly training staff. This makes current technology unsuitable for use in the field, at the point of care, or in developing countries.

The Aquila system, called the Accutas, is a portable diagnostic platform that performs accurate, timely, low cost, and multi-parameter testing at the point-of-care without the need for highly skilled operators. The core technology and intellectual property are based on a hydrogel matrix that contains all of the reagents for performing DNA amplification by real-time PCR. Reagents are stored within a gel that is desiccated to enable long-term storage at room temperature. The gel is loaded into a microfluidic chip or strips of 8 or 16 tubes, then diluted sample is added directly to rehydrate the reagents with no DNA extraction step required. The chips or strip of tubes, including control reactions, are run on a miniaturized instrument designed for use in the field. Pathogen DNA is amplified using real-time PCR and products are detected using LED induced fluorescence.

The Aquila system offers six critical advantages over current approaches to nucleic acid testing: 

  1. low cost per condition tested — 1/10 the cost of central laboratory testing;

  2. multiple tests on single sample;

  3. high speed with results in approximately one hour;

  4. portability that facilitates point-of-care use — tests do not have to be sent to central laboratories with resultant delays and costs;

  5. no refrigeration of cartridges required, resulting in improvements in warehousing and disposable management;

  6. no sample preparation required.


The system does two types of tests:

  1. highly sensitive nucleic acid–based tests where the presence of a pathogen such as a virus can be detected in blood or other biological fluid;

  2. genetic profiling — detection of genetic characteristics — such as metabolism or pathogen and host drug response/resistance.

Laboratory proof-of-concept is complete for the Accutas. The technology is protected by two patents and trade secrets.

The Accutas has two components: a hydrogel and a small form-factor instrument.

The Hydrogel 

A strip of tubes or a cartridge containing an array of independent, microlitre reaction compartments are filled with Aquila’s patent-pending hydrogel. Each compartment or tube is a separate reaction vessel that contains all the reagents and primers required for nucleic acid amplification. The amount and identity of the amplified nucleic acid sequence is determined through LED induced fluorescence detection, which is performed after the addition of a small volume of raw biological fluid (i.e. whole blood, urine, sputum, water) using a proprietary buffer system. The functionalized hydrogel is desiccated and rehydrated by the addition of the test sample, providing long-term, stable shelf life without the need for refrigeration.

The Accutas Instrument

The Accutas detection instrument is a small form-factor device produced by Aquila’s manufacturing partner and is comprised of thermal, LED, optical and thermocycling components. The small form factor and robust design of the system allow it to be used in the field or in a clinical environment. The instrument has low power requirements (12 V) and has been designed for ease of use by unskilled operators with a simple user interface, push button operation, touchscreen, and on-board computational capacity.

4-034 National Institute for Nanotechnology, 11421 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada   T6G 2M9

   Subscribe to our newsletter