Dr. Krisnan Chittur, a Chemical Engineering Professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville is designing a device to provide physicians one hour pathogen testing capabilities. The doctor can draw blood or take swab samples and send them to the lab. While waiting for the results, the patient may be treated based on an assessment of observed symptoms which sometimes can be less accurate than test results. Instead of using traditional tests that require cell culturing or looking for antibodies or other reactive agents created by the body in response to the disease, Dr. Chittur’s device uses stem loop DNA probes designed to bind specifically to the DNA in a targeted pathogen. Once a probe binds to a molecule, the probe will fluoresce, and then easily identify the culprit. In other words, the researchers have designed a magnet for genes.
Dr. Chittur is a cofounder of GeneCapture, a company formed to purse the commercialization of the technology that resulted from his early research at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. GeneCapture, a resident company at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville is perfecting a prototype and will begin more testing.
Dr. Chittur said, “When used as a medical device, the unit will require FDA clearance, however, other applications will not require certification to begin commercial sales.” So far, the device has successfully detected 16 different pathogens, including E coli bacteria SARS virus, Lyme disease bacteria, and MRSA bacteria. Additional potential applications for a quick pathogen test range beyond the physician’s office to include hospital screening, veterinary medicine, food testing, and performing environmental assessments.