Fort Belvoir, VA - Zika is the latest mosquito-borne disease to capture media attention, but mosquito-transmitted diseases are not new. In fact, malaria originated in Africa around 2700 BC and yellow fever more than 400 years ago. Currently, ten mosquito-related diseases pose a threat to public health and warfighter safety, making early detection a priority for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Joint Science and Technology Office.
Some diseases, such as dengue, have become an increasingly serious threat in frequency and mortality, highlighting the need for a diagnostic device to provide early detection and treatment. To address this issue, a team led by Dr. Steven Benner from Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution (FfAME) and managed by JSTO’s Dr. Ilya Elashvili, created the “DiagnoSkeeter,” a reusable, hand-held device that can test for two dozen viruses including yellow fever, dengue, Zika and various viral strains of encephalitis in under 30 minutes.
The user-friendly DiagnoSkeeter is more cost effective and efficient than commonly used polymerase chain reaction diagnostic methods, which typically include one-time-use, virus-specific tests requiring assessment in a laboratory. DiagnoSkeeter delivers on-the-spot diagnosis and requires only one person to administer, read and interpret the results, drastically reducing the time and cost to treat a warfighter exposed to disease.
Similar to other diagnostic tools, DiagnoSkeeter detects the virus’s DNA or RNA; however, the new device also isothermally identifies these molecules. The adaptable technology allows researchers to target individual or multiple pathogens at once, making its flexibility especially important for deployed warfighters in remote environments.
This DTRA research reinforces the DoD’s Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative through improving government and industry productivity and incentivizing innovation. The joint JSTO-FfAME project created an affordable, value-added capability for the warfighter, making previous diagnostic testing methods obsolete by comparison.
DiagnoSkeeter devices were recently shipped to India to detect dengue and chikungunya, both of which are widespread in the region, after receiving Emergency Use Authorization and Fast Track approval by the Food and Drug Administration. This activity demonstrates the need for the vital capability. In addition, researchers are currently adapting the device to detect pathogens carried by ticks, including real-time detection of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The DiagnoSkeeter represents a new generation of molecular diagnostics tools, allowing for early detection and treatment of warfighters exposed to biological threats. Resulting from a new general understanding of DNA and RNA, the innovation demonstrates the shortcomings of natural genetic molecules to meet current DoD needs and how these limitations may be overcome by creating additional “biomimetic” building blocks.
POC: Dr. Catherine Keaty; firstname.lastname@example.org