Texas professor developing paper-based tuberculosis test

Andy Ellington, a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, has received a $1.6 million grant from Grand Challenges in Global Health to develop a simple, paper-based test for drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Grand Challenges, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to engage creative minds throughout various scientific disciplines to work on solutions that could result in breakthrough advances for people in the developing world.
Ellington will attempt to develop a system for the rapid diagnosis of drug-resistant TB in areas lacking the appropriate infrastructure, such as parts of Africa and Afghanistan. The project was one of 22 Grand Challenges grants announced last Friday.
“New and improved diagnostics to use at the point-of-care can help health workers around the world save countless lives,” Chris Wilson, the director of global health discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. “Our hope is that these bold ideas lead to affordable, easy-to-use tools that can rapidly diagnose diseases and trigger timelier treatment in resource-poor communities.”
Current diagnostics for pathogens require refrigeration, analysis in advanced laboratories or several days to culture. Ellington's goal is to create a real-time test using a small paper strip that does not require refrigeration.
“It is critical to have a point-of-care, real-time test that fits the technology climate of the place where it is used,” Ellington said. “You have to do tests without refrigeration, and they need to be portable, cheap and disposable. Essentially, they need to be what a home pregnancy test is. Our diagnostic would be like that but for TB.”
Ellington's approach will be an attempt to build a diagnostic system using synthetic DNA embedded in paper. The DNA works like a circuit, attempting to amplify the presence of TB bacteria in saliva that will produce a color easily seen by the naked eye.
“From our research and that of others, we know what all the parts are that will make this work,” Ellington said. “The problem we are working on now is making the circuit sensitive enough to the minute levels of TB bacteria in a normal sample and decreasing false positives.”