Saturday, May 20, 2023

Plant Science Professors Work with Tech Startup to Create Novel, Rapid Detection of Foodborne Pathogen Test

Recall on lettuce and spinach! These notices have become common across the United States. To protect consumers, produce is routinely tested for foodborne pathogenic bacteria like salmonella, listeria monocytogenes and pathogenic types of E. coli. 

If a plant is infected with plant-based pathogens, the symptoms of infection are easier to observe. It doesn’t work that way with human, foodborne pathogens; you cannot, for example, visibly see E. coli on a plant surface. 

Currently, rapid testing of foods may occur, but it still takes time to figure out who is sick and from where the contaminated product originated. That’s far too late for the many Americans who ate the produce and became sick. The current solution, often a multi-state recall, then becomes damage control. 

University of Delaware researchers want to spot these bacteria before anyone ever falls ill. As detailed in an article published in the Journal of Food Safety, UD and Delaware-based startup Biospection are about to speed up testing — a lot. Faculty members Harsh Bais and Kali Kniel, alongside former graduate student Nick Johnson, teamed up with Andy Ragone of Biospection to detect foodborne pathogens in three to six hours. 

A microbiologist by trade, Kniel is an expert on crossover pathogens like salmonella, which gleefully jump to new hosts like that delicious, fresh lettuce. 

“While the produce industry is working diligently to reduce risks associated with microbial contamination, tools like this have incredible potential to improve risk reduction strategies,” said Kniel, professor of microbial food safety who works regularly with industry and government agencies to reduce risk of foodborne illness. “Collaborations like ours between academics and biotechnology companies can enhance technology and impact food safety and public health.”

These pathogens easily find their way into plants, which are unfortunately very welcoming hosts — hosts that can’t tell you where their guests are. 

Just like humans, plants use defense mechanisms to fight disease. But some human-borne pathogens learned to push open a plant’s open-entry gates called stomates — pores in the leaves or stem — and make themselves at home. 

“Because these bacteria are not true pathogens for plants, you cannot physically see early signs that the plant is under stress,” said Bais, UD professor of plant biology. “Biospection’s technology allows us to say, very quickly, if the opportunistic human pathogen is present in the plant.”

As a chemical physicist working in Wilmington, Ragone got to know Kniel and Bais through Delaware’s scientific community and lab equipment sharing. A relationship built over time, culminating when Kniel, Bais and Ragone applied for and received research funding from a Delaware Biotechnology Institute Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) grant for scientific technology and intellectual property.

The researchers married their interdisciplinary expertise to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, a task that industry and academic researchers struggled with for many years. The result? The team created a multi-spectral imaging platform to look at plant sentinel response. A goal is to use this technique directly on a conveyor, scanning your lettuce before it ever heads to the grocery store.

So how do you see a symptom that you can’t see? The researchers’ technique scans leaves via multispectral imaging and deep UV sensing when the plant is attracting these pathogens. When the researchers looked at benign bacteria, they observed little change. But, with harmful, human-borne pathogens, the test can spot differences in the plant under attack. 

“Using Listeria as an example, in three to six hours, we see a sharp drop of chlorophyll pigments,” Bais said. “That’s a strong signal that the plant is responding physiologically — a marker of unusual bacteria.”

The new, multi-spectral imaging technique is non-invasive, and lightning fast compared to current tests, where a lab scientist extracts a leaf, grinds it up, plates the bacteria and looks for disease. The current method is not commercially available, but Biospection was awarded a National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant in 2022 to develop and commercialize it into a real time imaging sensor to inspect plants for disease and other stresses. 

“Harsh and Kali were certainly instrumental in the techniques that we developed with multi-spectral imaging and the use of deep ultraviolet fluorescence,” said Ragone, founder and chief technology officer of Biospection. “We built a portable instrument that could be commercialized.”

Vertical farming is an agricultural sector that stands to reap the benefits of this new technology. Using less water and less space, vertical farms are a vital step towards more sustainable agriculture. But when it comes to disease, these farms are just as vulnerable as traditional, outdoor agriculture. An incidence of E. coli means a vertical farm must throw away an entire harvest. 

Biospection is already working with agricultural companies to embed the imaging sensor into vertical farms’ shelves and, for outdoor farms, crop drones. 

“Working with UD, we’ve laid the scientific foundation to create better instruments,” Ragone said. “We’re working toward an instrument that’s portable, automated and can give an answer in a matter of seconds.”

For future research, Bais has his eye on determining if this technology can differentiate between different microbes.

“If the sentinel response is different from one microbe to the other, that gives us the identity of the microbe based on plant sentinel response. We haven’t gone there yet, but that would be the ultimate achievement,” Bais said. “In one sentinel, then you could differentiate between what benign and harmful microbes does this in terms of one sentinel.”

Source: University of Delaware

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Virginia Tech Lab Awarded $1.2 Million to Create Rapid and Accurate Lyme Disease Testing

A rapid, at-home test that can diagnose acute Lyme disease? That is the goal for researcher Brandon Jutras and his team at Virginia Tech’s Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

Through the support of a recent $1.2 million multiyear therapeutic/diagnostic research tick-borne disease grant awarded by the Department of Defense, Jutras’ vision may one day become a reality. This research award aims to improve patient care and quality of life for military service members, veterans, and their beneficiaries as well as the American public living with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.

“Current Lyme disease diagnostic testing is indirect, as it can take weeks, even months, and the results are difficult to interpret, which leads to misdiagnosed or undiagnosed cases,” said Jutras, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and an affiliate faculty member in the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens, “It’s an honor to be supported by this innovative program and it is our hope that our work will help former and active service members, their families, and anyone impacted by Lyme disease.”

In developing an acute test to treat Lyme disease, a team of undergraduate and graduate researchers and staff in the Jutras Lab will use peptidoglycan, a component forming the cell walls of many bacteria, as a biomarker of acute disease.

“Peptidoglycan is a very abundant molecule that’s naturally being shed by the bacterium,” Jutras said. “And most importantly, when compared with other bacteria, this molecule is extremely unique to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. And so we are developing a sophisticated but very accessible test that can exploit these unusual molecular signatures to directly detect this molecule and in essence be able to hopefully diagnose Lyme disease within hours after infection.”

Since it was first identified in the United States in 1975, Lyme disease has become the world’s most common tick-borne zoonotic disease — one spread from animals to humans through the bite of infected ticks —  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more than 14 percent of the global population is thought to currently have Lyme disease or have been previously infected. The congressionally directed program to support fundamental research on tick-borne disease was established in 2016.

The rapid and accurate diagnosis of this disease is a priority in patient care so as to avoid the medical consequences associated with delayed treatment. It also could help uncover the true prevalence of Lyme disease, which can be difficult to determine because of problems associated with current diagnostic testing.

“These Lyme disease tests are not only insufficient, but they also lack the two main requirements for any diagnostic test – sensitivity and specificity,” said Osamudiamen Ebohon, a graduate student that matriculated into the Jutras Lab through the center’s new Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Infectious Disease. “In the long run, this may have an impact not only on diagnosis but also on monitoring the spread of the disease and the development of appropriate interventions.”

The success of the labs’ new approach is the recent creation of several specific monoclonal antibodies that can detect the unique pieces of peptidoglycan, efforts that were partially supported by an award from the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.

“Whenever we tackle a complex problem, we always take a multisystem approach. Support from the Bay Area Lyme Foundation provided the freedom to explore and in doing so, lead to an exciting discovery — the creation, production, and characterization of an entirely new set of monoclonal antibodies which were the basis of the Department of Defense award and may be a game-changer for diagnostic and maybe even therapeutic purposes,” said Jutras.

Concurrent to the grant-funded research, Jutras’ exploration into developing an accessible test is augmented with the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation LymeX Diagnostics Prize.

Jutras, along with colleagues Richard Helm, associate professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, and Marcos Pires, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at University of Virginia, are currently in the second phase of the competition, which coincides with the next phase of federal nurturing of tick-borne-disease solutions.

With this new phase, which runs through September, $10 million in LymeX prizes are projected to be available across all potential competition phases, subject to availability and approval of funds.

MSU Partners with Physician in the Dominican Republic to Improve Tuberculosis Testing

Tuberculosis, or TB, a bacterial disease that usually attacks the lungs, has regained its distinction as the leading infectious disease resulting in death, following the extraordinary efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, are spread through the air, for example when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. The disease kills nearly 1.5 million people each year.

Early and widespread detection of TB is crucial to slow its spread and save lives, according to Robert Paulino-Ramírez, M.D., principal investigator at the Institute of Tropical Medicine & Global Health at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and chair of the Tropical Medicine/Infectious Disease Virtual Institute in the Education and Research Consortium of the Americas within the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine Institute for Global Health.

“In the Dominican Republic, the tuberculosis rate is very high,” Paulino-Ramírez said. “One of the most important gaps in treatment is rapid identification of active cases at the community level.”

To recognize community transmission requires rapid diagnosis, but currently the only way to do that in the Dominican Republic national health care system is through Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR testing, a time-consuming and expensive procedure requiring highly trained technicians. “PCR testing is cost-prohibitive and even the reagents required are in short supply due to supply chain issues,” said Paulino-Ramírez.

A $142,000, two-year grant from the Dominican Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology will allow Paulino-Ramírez, in partnership with Michigan State University, to leverage expertise and new technologies to alleviate that problem.  

A crucial part of the solution comes from the Nano-Biosensors Lab of Evangelyn Alocilja, Ph.D., professor in the MSU Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and Ruben Kenny Briceno, M.D., IGH Co-Coordinator Peru Research and member of the Nano-Biosensors Lab, who developed a test for TB that uses nanoparticles targeted to specific proteins and genes of the tuberculosis bacteria.

The test is about 30 times cheaper than PCR, requires very little training time for health care personnel and even students, and, unlike the reagents used in PCR testing, can be stored at room temperature, according to Dr. Paulino-Ramírez. “The technology has been demonstrated to perform extremely well in vitro.”

“The nanoparticle-based TB test has been validated in hundreds of sputum samples in Mexico, Peru and Nepal, and the results are comparable to the PCR-based GeneXpert system,” Alocilja said. “Dr. Paulino-Ramirez and I are excited to work together toward potentially improving TB diagnosis in the Dominican Republic.”

How the body reacts to infection depends greatly on the health of a person’s immune system. Therefore, the team will first confirm the efficacy of the nanoparticle test vs. PCR in a clinical setting for both immune-suppressed and non-immune-suppressed patients. If confirmed to be effective, “the transfer of this technology will be hugely beneficial, especially in middle- and lower-income countries,” Paulino-Ramírez said. Currently, patients are often treated based on symptoms alone rather than a positive TB test, simply because the cost is too high or the materials are unavailable.  

“Without the need for costly molecular biology laboratories and -70°C storage facilities (both are required for PCR), it will be much easier for health care providers at the community level to detect TB,” Paulino-Ramírez said.

Paulino-Ramírez is excited about the potential of the new technology and its ability to expand disease detection. Because nanoparticles are easy to tailor to specific diseases, Paulino-Ramírez, Alocilja, Briceno and the collaborating team are optimistic that the technology can be adapted in the future to detect other diseases, including coronaviruses.

“The Institute for Global Health and the College of Osteopathic Medicine are privileged to partner with the College of Engineering and the Tropical Medicine Institute at UNIBE, Dominican Republic, to expand research on early diagnosis of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases through nanotechnology. Dr. Briceno de la Cruz from IGH, Dr. Alocilja from COE, and Dr. Robert Paulino, main researcher at the Tropical Medicine Institute, will lead the next phase of this project in the Dominican Republic," said William Cunningham D.O., MHA, director of IGH and associate dean for Global Health at MSUCOM.

A Smoke Detector for Viruses

The COVID-19 pandemic spiked anxiety about an invisible threat: airborne viral particles. The inability to detect the presence of these microscopic pathogens necessitated the disruptive precautionary measures of the COVID-19 era, such as masks, social distancing and the shutdown of schools, workplaces and large public gatherings. 

But what if airborne viruses could be detected in the same manner as smoke, carbon monoxide and other environmental dangers? Two University of Illinois Chicago scientists have collaborated on a device that could detect SARS-CoV-2, influenza, RSV and other pathogens. The technology, called BioAerium, could dramatically improve disease surveillance for public health as well as research on how viral particles move through the air.  

The device earned its creators Michael Caffrey, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, and Igor Paprotny, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, the 2022 Inventor of the Year award from UIC. Their work is also the basis of a new startup company, also called BioAerium, which is exploring commercial opportunities of the technology.  

While COVID-19 accelerated the urgency of Caffrey and Paprotny’s project, their collaboration actually formed before the pandemic, with the flu virus as their initial target. Caffrey’s research studies the structure of viruses such as influenza, HIV and Ebola using laboratory methods to reveal the intricate architecture of these pathogens and how it relates to their activity. Paprotny’s expertise is in the study and design of microfluidic systems, which work with tiny amounts of fluid, usually liquid; however, most of his devices work to detect aerosols – minute particles in the air.  

Because a respiratory virus detector needs to detect small quantities of viral bioaerosols — aerosol that contain viruses — the combination of their specialties provided the ideal partnership for the challenge. 

“The viruses that I study are, for the most part, airborne,” Caffrey said. “Viruses in air form larger particles, and those particles are analogous to many of the particle types that Igor’s lab was studying before. So, it was a natural fit.” 

Devices for detecting airborne viruses already exist, but they are bulky and expensive, making them impractical for widespread use. The technique for identifying a target virus, DNA amplification, is traditionally performed in a laboratory, so that step needs to be both automated and miniaturized in order to create a portable or wearable detector.  

Recent “lab-on-a-chip” technologies – similar to what makes a home COVID-19 test work – address this challenge, but typically require high-concentration samples from saliva or a nose swab. So Caffrey and Paprotny needed to tackle two challenges: shrinking down the biochemical analysis and collecting enough viral particles from the air for it to work.  

Enter the UIC nanotechnology core facility, where Paprotny is the faculty research director. With microfabrication – the manufacturing of complex technologies at an exceedingly small size – the researchers could design detectors that are both practical for non-laboratory use and inexpensive enough to make at scale 

“We’re in this nice sweet spot where we had a lot of technology that was already developed on the air microfluidic side, and we connected with Mike who was an expert on the virology side,” Paprotny said. “By connecting the two together, we could come up with this device that’s really novel and has a lot of promise going forward.” 

Currently, the BioAerium prototype detects one virus at a time; for example, a detector could be set up to look for SARS-CoV-2 and placed in a classroom or airplane to monitor the air for the virus that causes COVID-19. But Caffrey and Paprotny designed the device as an open, customizable platform and envision a future “multiplex” version that can detect many viruses at once, or even distinguish between variants of a virus. 

“COVID is maybe going away, but we’re looking at this project as preparing for the next pandemic, and for diseases like the flu where it will be beneficial to be able to detect the presence of a virus,” Paprotny said. “We may even be able to tell whether we are detecting a flu variant that people are vaccinated against or a different strain. Making those distinctions can be especially important.” 

The small size and low cost of the device could also enable exciting new science. With multiple detectors installed in a building, across a campus, or throughout a neighborhood, researchers could study in unprecedented detail how a virus spreads through the air and detect emerging variants in real-time, instead of waiting for infections and patient tests. 

“We envision that such devices would be connected to the Internet of Things,” Caffrey said. “One could then take advantage of big data science to analyze the signals coming out in multiple areas and provide a global picture that would be useful from a public health perspective.” 

Caffrey and Paprotny are currently working with the Office of Technology Management on commercializing their detector technology and have filed for patents. For more information, visit the BioAerium website. Read more about the Research, Scholar, and Inventor of the Year award recipients at the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research website.

A COVID-Detecting Breathalyzer Utilizing Laser Technology

Scientists from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a laser-based breathalyzer powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that can detect COVID-19 in real-time with excellent accuracy. The device uses breath analysis as an alternative, rapid, non-invasive test for COVID-19 and has the potential to diagnose diverse conditions and disease states. The “frequency comb breathalyzer” uses Nobel Prize-winning technology from CU and could revolutionize medical diagnostics.

Scientists from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a laser-based breathalyzer powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that can detect COVID-19 in real-time with excellent accuracy. The device uses breath analysis as an alternative, rapid, non-invasive test for COVID-19 and has the potential to diagnose diverse conditions and disease states. The “frequency comb breathalyzer” uses Nobel Prize-winning technology from CU and could revolutionize medical diagnostics. The team is now focusing on a wide range of other diseases with the potential for patients to blow into a mouthpiece integrated into their phones to get real-time health information.

The breathalyzer uses the unique chemical fingerprint or “breathprint” that humans exhale with each breath. It produces over 1,000 distinct molecules that can provide valuable insights into what’s happening inside the body. For years, scientists have tried to harness this information, using dogs, rats, and even bees to sniff out diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and tuberculosis.

The multidisciplinary team of physicists, biochemists, and biologists is now focusing on a wide range of other diseases, hoping that the “frequency comb breathalyzer” could revolutionize medical diagnostics. The breathalyzer was born of Nobel Prize-winning technology from CU and has the potential to diagnose diverse conditions and disease states rapidly and non-invasively.

“Our results demonstrate the promise of breath analysis as an alternative, rapid, non-invasive test for COVID-19 and highlight its remarkable potential for diagnosing diverse conditions and disease states,” said Qizhong Liang, a PhD candidate in JILA and the Department of Physics at CU Boulder, and the first author of the study.

The team is hopeful that in the future, people could go to the doctor and have their breath measured alongside their height and weight. Alternatively, they could blow into a mouthpiece integrated into their phone and get real-time information about their health.

Since then, Ye’s team has improved the sensitivity of the technology a thousandfold, enabling the detection of trace molecules at the parts-per-trillion level. They have also linked specific molecules to disease states, paving the way for the breathalyzer’s potential use in medical diagnostics.

The team’s findings were published in the Journal of Breath Research on April 5. The research is a result of a collaboration that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The breakthrough represents a significant step forward in the diagnosis of diseases using exhaled breath. The breathalyzer’s potential to diagnose COVID-19 and other diseases rapidly and non-invasively could revolutionize medical diagnostics, making it possible for people to get real-time information about their health. The potential of the breathalyzer is endless, and the team is hopeful that it will change the face of medical diagnostics in the future.

Reference: Liang Q, Chan YC, Toscano J, et al. Breath analysis by ultra-sensitive broadband laser spectroscopy detects SARS-CoV-2 infection. J Breath Res. 2023;17(3):036001. doi: 10.1088/1752-7163/acc6e4

Monday, May 1, 2023

Chula Researchers Develop a Rapid MTB Strip Test for Tuberculosis

Lecturers of the Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University have developed MTB Strip Test Kit for Tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis that’s accurate and easy to use, guaranteed by the 2023 Invention Award from the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) — Another hope to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in Thailand.

Tuberculosis is one of the most contagious diseases that continues to challenge the public health system today. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) aims for 2035 (the next 12 years) to be the year to end the global tuberculosis crisis, the disease trend is still worrisome.

“Thailand is one of the 14 countries with the most severe TB incidence. Fortunately, drug-resistant tuberculosis in Thailand has been removed from the WHO’s list of highest-incidence countries. Only ordinary tuberculosis cases remain,” said Associate Professor Dr. Panan Ratthawongjirakul, Department of Transfusion Medicine, Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, discussing the situation of tuberculosis in Thailand.

Tuberculosis is an airborne disease caused by a bacterium called “Mycobacterium tuberculosis”. It is spread from TB patients to others through small respiratory secretions (AKA droplets) that come from coughing, sneezing, or talking. It is easy to contract and it spreads quickly. 

“One of the mechanisms to help end tuberculosis is identifying TB patients as early as possible to control and limit its transmission” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan about the inception of the research project to develop MTB Strip (Mycobacterium tuberculosis Strip) that is easy to use, convenient to read by the naked eye, and with fast and accurate results. More importantly, the cost should not be high to make it accessible to local public health service systems.

“If we can distribute this test to small hospitals everywhere, we will be able to identify TB patients within two hours and screen positive patients quickly into the treatment system.  We believe this will help reduce the number of TB cases in our country” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan about the objective of MTB Strip innovation.

Pros and Cons of the current methods of TB Testing

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan mentioned the various advantages and disadvantages of current testing methods for tuberculosis as follows:

1. Microscopic examination using acid-fast staining is a simple method. It can be done in a small hospital, but the disadvantage is low sensitivity (the minimum bacterial concentration required for a positive signal when examining with a microscopic examination is 5000–10000 cells in 1 ml of sputum.

2. Sputum culture is the standard method of diagnosing tuberculosis, but it can only be done in well-equipped large hospitals. This method must be done in a room with a high-safety system to prevent it from spreading outside. It takes more than a month to know the results which will result in delayed treatment.

3. TB Genotyping involves taking the patient’s sputum to extract and amplify the genetic materials which are then tested by a Real-time PCR machine. The disadvantage of this method is that it is costly and requires a lab with specialized personnel, so it can be done only in some hospitals.

Based on the advantages and limitations of various methods used to detect tuberculosis, the research team developed the MTB Strip Test Kit.                         

Faster and easier TB Screening with MTB Strip

MTB Strip TB Test Kit consists of 2 main parts: 1. Genetic amplification using isothermal amplification with specifically modified and designed primers. 2. Genetic materials detection using developed test strips, which are manufactured from ISO13485-certified industrial plants for medical device manufacturing.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan explained the process of using this test kit “after receiving sputum from the patient, the DNA will be extracted and used as a template. We will put a primer specially designed to amplify the amount of genetic material in the DNA of the pathogen in the patient’s sputum before entering the isothermal amplification process by using a recombinase polymerase amplification technique. It takes only 20 – 40 minutes at 37 degrees Celsius. Then, the developed test strip is dipped into the amplified genetic material. The results will appear on the test strip as positive and negative results like the ATK test that we are familiar with.”

The key feature of the MTB Strip is its sensitivity to tuberculosis. With a small amount of tuberculosis in the sputum, the test can detect it and display the result. In addition, the test process takes less than an hour and does not require any special tools.

“The results are up to 96 percent accurate compared to Realtime PCR and other commonly used acid-resistant dye methods. Importantly, this kit is cheaper than molecular biology tests because it does not require any special tools such as thermocycler” Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan emphasized.

The MTB Strip kit uses the principle of amplifying genetic material under a single constant temperature in conjunction with a heat box. In a typical laboratory, this type of box is already available. Small hospitals can also use this technique.

“The MTB Strip TB test kit we have developed will enable many existing small and medium-sized hospitals in Thailand to screen for TB cases so that patients can receive appropriate treatment quickly, thereby reducing the number of TB cases and the spread of TB.”

Fighting tuberculosis with the Distribution of MTB strips to the provinces

The MTB Strip Test prototypes have already been administered at Umphang Hospital, Tak Province in 2019-2020 and the results are good to a certain extent. However, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan has not stopped developing methods and innovations to reduce the number of cases of tuberculosis in Thailand.

“Although the MTB Strip kit works satisfactorily, we would still like to develop more sensitivity by making the DNA extraction easier to be used as the kit primer.”

In addition, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan also has plans to expand the testing of TB and related diseases by developing an easier-to-use DNA extraction kit and TB test kit that can identify drug-resistant variants of TB right from the outset, so that more specific treatment guidelines can be set.

“We are currently conducting in-depth research on the genetic modification of tuberculosis using a novel technique of genetic modification for a living organism called CRISPR Cas-9 Interference to modify certain TB genes, making the infection less aggressive and more responsive to antituberculosis drugs. CRISPR Cas-9 Interference can be used in conjunction with current antituberculosis drugs.”

If the study is successful, it will be a new TB treatment of the future, which Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan is sure will help reduce the number of TB cases to reach WHO’s target. Small hospitals interested in the MTB Strip Test kits can contact Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panan Rathwongjirakul, the Research Unit of Innovative Diagnosis of Antimicrobial Resistance, Department of Transfusion Medicine and Clinical Microbiology, Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, email

Early Pathogen Detection: Collaboration Speeds up Bioelectronic Sensor Development

“The key to successful collaboration with clinicians is to spend time with them, getting to know exactly what they need,” said Sahika Inal, bioengineer at KAUST. “Creating tools for doctors to use at the point of interaction with patients requires full understanding of healthcare workflows and the expertise of the workforce. If you don’t have this, then the tools are likely to be ignored.”

Inal and her team are collaborating closely with Ashraf Dada, Fatima Alhamlan and co-workers at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH&RC) in Saudi Arabia. The aim of the partnership is to help develop and trial bioelectronic sensors that will aid in cheap, accurate and rapid pathogen detection.

“My aim is to make doctors’ jobs easier and diagnosis as fast as possible by providing a new technology to replace conventional laboratory tests,” Inal said. “Our goal is to make these sensors available to clinicians so that they can get data to diagnose diseases faster. We’re also hoping that the technology will support healthcare professionals in low-income countries and in communities remote to healthcare services.”

During the pandemic, Inal joined forces with KAUST’s Stefan Arold to develop electronic chips that can detect the presence of COVID-19 from saliva samples. Their chips are close in sensitivity to conventional PCR tests and provide results in just 15 minutes.

“To investigate this innovative technology for its suitability in a clinical setting and to validate the accuracy of our sensors, we reached out to experts at Saudi Arabian hospitals,” Inal said.

Researchers from KFSH&RC provided us with samples and evaluated the results based on their conventional techniques as a comparison tool. They then shared their results with us, enabling us to validate our technology. This is how our collaboration started.”

“Our hospital has an advanced Research Centre to support the clinical health care of our patients with innovative diagnostics and therapeutic studies,” Dada said. “We were delighted with the novelty, sensitivity and accuracy of the diagnostic approach brought to us by KAUST researchers.”

Since their trials for the COVID-19 sensors, the collaboration between Arold, Inal and the hospital teams has gone from strength to strength, with the teams working closely to expand the potential of the bioelectronic sensors.

“The clinicians make our research relevant – they tell us what is really missing in their daily routine, which tools they would have liked to have,” Inal said.

“Understanding this then benefits both physicians and patients because conditions can be treated more rapidly. Our devices will allow healthcare providers to screen for multiple markers in a short time, allowing them to build a clearer picture of each patient’s overall health. From our perspective, being able to validate our sensors using high-quality authentic data that we know has been collected with care is invaluable.”

“I hope that our project will result in a cutting-edge technology that revolutionizes the diagnostics of pathogens and changes the landscape of diagnostic tools in the field of infectious diseases,” Dada said. “Such technology should also help ensure that the world is better prepared for future pandemics.”

Inal hopes that their technology will advance rapidly to provide early, accurate detection for both infectious and noninfectious diseases. Both Inal and Dada are excited to see the fruits of this collaboration rolled out more widely in future.