NIH gives $2.4 million to bioweapon detector development

A researcher from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., has been awarded $2.4 million by the National Institutes of Health to develop assays capable of detecting 35 viral pathogens.
Pejman Naraghi-Arani was given the award through the NIH's Partnerships for Biodefense Program, which aims to develop various tools that can detect, mitigate the effects of or protect against an attack by a biological weapon. Naraghi-Arani and partners, including the University of California - San Francisco, NanoString Technologies Corp. and the University of Texas Medical Branch will use the funding for the detection of category A, B and C viral pathogens, including Marburg, Ebola, dengue and chikungunya.
Since many of the diseases on this list present initial symptoms similar to a cold and flu, developing an assay that leverages the NanoString's nCounter platform will allow these viruses to be quickly detected to increase the treatment time window and the ability to mitigate the virus' spread.
"This product will help prevent one of the main things a terrorist group would want, which is to overwhelm emergency response," Naraghi-Arani said. "It will be very similar to the response we saw in the anthrax attacks; however, it won't just be concerned people calling a center. It will be worried people flooding hospitals, and this way we can process them much faster."
The platform has the ability to test more than 100 samples a day with only five minutes of patient contact each. Results are returned within 24 hours if the patients are infected with any one of the 35 viruses. This can prevent an emergency room from being overwhelmed as patients can give 100 microliters of blood at a station outside the facility and go home to await their results.
"One of the main reasons this system is important is that it enables us to make real diagnosis of diseases as opposed to looking at very general kinds of symptoms and guessing," Naraghi-Arani said. "This kind of research also helps us to identify specific biomarkers associated with these very dangerous pathogens and allows us to develop even better tools for mitigation, such as novel antivirals. There are definite real-world applications right now in the United States with emerging diseases that we know could be an issue. It would be great to have these tools available, even without the presence of a biological attack, because we need to be able to respond quickly. This is an example of how partnerships between the government, national laboratories, universities and corporations help to solve some of our bigger problems."

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