New mobile biothreat detector could aid first responders

BioFlow, a new handheld biological threat detection system, may help first responders to identify biological threats on site, including anthrax, bacterial agents, viruses and clinical markers.

The device, currently under development at The Mitre Corporation's Bio-Nano Laboratory, may effectively save time, money and lives with quick and accurate identification of biological pathogens. The company has demonstrated the concept of the device for multiple government sponsors including the Department of Homeland Security, SignalScape reports.

"These portable detectors could become as common as automated external defibrillators among first responders' tool kits," Russell Graef, the leader of the project at Mitre, said.

BioFlow uses antibody-coated magnetic microspheres to extract and identify particular targets like viruses, hormones or viruses. The device is able to identify targets in multiple types of samples, including blood, soil, water and urine.

"You have to know what you want to test for," Graef said. "The system cannot identify a true unknown, only what the microspheres are designed to detect. For example, a microsphere set designed to detect clinical markers-such as the hormones that indicate heart attack-won't identify bio-threat toxins such as SEB."

One of the most important aspects of the technology is its ability to save time and money by not having to send samples out to a laboratory and wait for results.

"The real cost savings will be in the re-use of the system and the number of samples a customer runs using it," Graef said. "It's not going to do a high through-put level of screening, as a lab would do, but it could process two or three samples in 10 to 20 minutes for near real-time screening, and in that case it could be very affordable to use. The cost savings is in the fast turnaround time-being able to perform the analysis on site, rather than shipping the sample to a lab and awaiting results."

Graef said that sponsors have positively received the demonstrations thus far and that a prototype is in development.