SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

Challenge initiated to create rapid diagnostic tool

Grand Challenges Canada has teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on a global effort to discover and develop easy-to-use, affordable tools to help health workers in developing countries to rapidly diagnose diseases.
The five research areas in the grand challenge break the problem down into its component parts - draw blood or other biological sample and prep it for analysis, analyze the sample for disease identification, develop technologies to obtain and transmit data and receive back results, and make sure the device will work in the field without electricity and refrigeration.
"Imagine a hand-held, battery-powered device that can take a drop of blood and, within minutes, tell a healthcare worker in a remote village whether a feverish child has malaria, dengue or a bacterial infection," Peter A. Singer, the chief executive officer of Grand Challenges Canada, said. "More rapid diagnosis of malaria alone could prevent 100,000 deaths a year. We believe this and other life-saving opportunities are within our reach."
Rebecca Lackman, the program officer for diagnostics at Grand Challenges Canada, compared the project to software developers making new apps for tablet computers and smartphones.
"Researchers have accepted the challenge to create novel sampling and testing systems that can be plugged into a standardized analyzer that can test for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and a variety of tropical diseases," Lackman said. "The 'Integrated Innovation' approach means they will also investigate the social and business innovations needed for successful product delivery and use."
Bigtec Labs in Bangalore, India, one of the grantees, has already developed a handheld analyzer called a mini-Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, which is able to identify malaria from its DNA fingerprint.
"A colleague here one day was ill with what he thought was food poisoning," B. Chandrasekhar Nair, the director of Bigtec Labs, said. "We ran a blood sample through our mini-PCR and it turned out to be malaria."
The colleague was immediately treated and returned to health within a week.
Other point-of-care diagnostic tools, such as a piece of woven fabric that can test urine or blood for disease and a simple, easy-to-use test for diarrheal disease diagnosis, are among the products receiving funding.
"Safe, effective methods of diagnosing illness at the point-of-care are vital to improving health in developing countries," Chris Wilson, the director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. "We hope these innovative ideas lead to technologies that allow patients to get the right treatment quickly—speeding recovery, limiting the spread of disease and helping them to lead healthy, productive lives."