'Lab on a chip' malaria test a step closer to real-world use
UAlberta professor, spinoff company lead global effort to bring fast, accurate malaria testing kit to the places it’s needed most.
By KATE TOOGOOD
(Edmonton) A University of Alberta professor has come one step closer to bringing diagnostic testing for malaria out of the lab and into the field.
New funding means Stephanie Yanow, a researcher in the School of Public Health, can further develop a technology, called Accutas, which will allow technicians in the field to test for malaria—and potentially many other infectious diseases.
With her partner, the U of A spinoff company Aquila Diagnostic Systems, Yanow was recently awarded a Proof of Principle Program – Phase II grant worth $143,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
“This grant will support us with the engineering and software development needed to make a device that will be easy for a village health worker to use and that can withstand harsh testing environments, such as sub-Saharan Africa,” says Yanow.
As part of the grant, Yanow and Aquila Diagnostics have joined forces with the Switzerland-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and the Ugandan Ministry of Health to bring the device to a clinic in Uganda for testing. There, local staff will use the device to test samples for malaria. The diagnosis will then be confirmed using traditional lab methods.
“The device will be at the clinic for several months so local staff can test it and provide us with data on how to improve it for the clinic setting. By the end of this year, we hope to have a machine that anyone can use and have the data to see what we need to do next to make its application universal.”
Making the lab-on-a-chip application universal is one of the major goals of the research. Although this particular grant will focus on testing for malaria, the partners hope the technology will have a broad array of applications to diagnose other infectious diseases.
David Alton, CEO of Aquila Diagnostics, believes that because of this flexibility, the Accutas technology will have a big impact on public health.
“We wanted to find a way to bring the conventional lab to the field, to be able to do difficult testing at a low cost at the point of care,” he says. “With Accutas, you have immediate test results and we will have the data to demonstrate its effectiveness.”
Yanow agrees. “The beauty of the device is that it’s designed to support diagnostic testing for a variety of targets, whether it’s a virus, bacteria or even human DNA, in clinics all over the world.
“This research, which is truly a global effort, is helping us develop a technology that can be used around the world. It’s showing how academia and industry can work together to better global health.”
The researchers wish to acknowledge their partners Mark Perkins with FIND and Anthony Mbonye with the Ministry of Health in Uganda.