Technology out of Los Alamos may help diagnose diseases



LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – A serious and highly contagious disease recently made a comeback in New Mexico. Just last month, health officials out of Clovis had to test more than 100 Curry County residents after a man came down with Tuberculosis. Doctors still don’t have effective ways of testing for it, but that could change with new technology out of Los Alamos.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab were looking for a tool that could diagnose TB early on, and one that could tell the difference between active and inactive TB. Scientists say about a third of the world’s population can carry the bug that causes the disease even though only five to 10-percent will actually get it.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory demonstrate how a breakthrough sensor technology can be applied to infectious diseases, like Tuberculosis.

“I think the whole point of our work is to say we want better tools for the diagnosis of infection in all parts of the world,” said LANL Chemistry for Biomedical Applications leader Harshini Mukundan.

She says early and accurate detection of TB is vital to fighting it. Thing is, current tests can’t distinguish between active and inactive TB. That’s where this new technology comes in.

It’s based off of how our immune system reacts to a bug. Our body first identifies it and then responds making us sneeze, cough, come down with a fever, whatever it can to get rid of the bug.

“That’s because of certain patterns on the bug, which are the same molecules we are detecting in our TB assay,” explained Mukundan.

To break it down further, scientists inject say, a blood sample. They then let it set, allowing the solution they’ve put on a glass slide to bind to what they’re looking for in the sample.

“Then we can wash off everything that’s not bound,” Mukundan demonstrated. “Then you excite the laser to see what you have over here.”

Scientists are also working to apply the technology to other diseases, like E-Coli.

This original technology was developed to be the equivalent of a dogs nose, to sense things like land mines and pathogens that were a concern in terms of bio-security.

Scientists say this technology will be especially important when it comes to pediatric TB and TB found in cows. Children don’t have the same symptoms as adults and it’s harder to detect the disease in children.

Tuberculosis kills over a million people every year worldwide.