US college wins grant to develop portable device to detect bird flu and
23 January 2007
The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has been
awarded a five-year, $8.1 million grant from the National Institutes of
Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop a
rapid, miniaturized, automated diagnostic device to test for avian flu and
the majority of potential bioterrorism agents.
The new integrated device the researchers are developing may allow cost
effective, point-of-care diagnosis of these agents within one to two hours,
according to principal investigator Kelly Henrickson, M.D., professor of
pediatrics and microbiology at the Medical College. Dr. Henrickson is also a
pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Dr. Henrickson previously developed the Hexaplex diagnostic test, using
specialized reagents and genetic data for rapid, accurate simultaneous
detection of the seven most common lower respiratory viruses, including
several varieties of influenza. This technology is the basis for an array of
products for physicians worldwide to rapidly detect the microbes responsible
for a variety of illnesses such as aseptic meningitis, chicken pox, chronic
cough syndrome, encephalitis, herpes, influenza, pneumonia, SARS, shingles,
and West Nile virus.
“Our laboratory has pioneered a flexible, rapid, sensitive and specific
method of simultaneously detecting multiple pathogens,” says Dr. Henrickson.
“We have recently developed two BioTplex assays that detect many (15)
category ‘A’ bioterrorism agents. However, new amplified DNA detection and
nucleic acid purification methods beyond those used in the Hexaplex
diagnostic test allow for the development of a single ‘point-of-care’ device
that may enhance the speed, flexibility, throughput, and cost effectiveness
of multiplex assays.”
Infectious agents identified to pose the greatest potential threat
(Category "A" agents) include Variola major (smallpox), Bacillus anthracis
(anthrax), Yersinia pestis (plague), Clostridium botulinum toxin (botulism),
Francisella tularensis (tularaemia), and a group of RNA viruses that cause
hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs).
Another agent of grave concern is avian flu. Additional concern exists
over bird-to-human spread of avian flu and the potential adaptation for
human-to-human spread. Terrorists could take advantage of avian flu's
flexibility and engineer more virulent strains, capable of causing worldwide
pandemics. Current diagnostic assays are directed to the common human
isolates of influenza A, but no assay is available to detect all of the
avian varieties of influenza A, according to Dr. Henrickson.
The Medical College of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital, Children’s
Research Institute, and Nanogen Inc. will also participate in the project.