As diseases like Ebola demonstrate how a virus can easily spread across communities, borders and oceans,researchers around the world are on a quest to develop technology that quickly screens for infectious diseases like Ebola, making it easier to contain.
In fighting Ebola, researchers have found that early screening is the key to preventing the spread of the disease, but it’s a hard disease to diagnose based on the symptoms, which can be common to other diseases like malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis. One American medical device maker is developing revolutionary new technology that can screen for diseases like Ebola in only minutes, just by analyzing an individual’s breath.
Ancon Medical Inc. is seeking investment to further develop its Nanoparticle Biomarker Tagging (NBT) technology device. NBT can quantitatively analyze chemicals from a breath sample and locate specific “biomarkers,” which are DNA-protein controlled volatile organic compounds (VOCs) metabolites specific to diseases. NBT can accurately detect a biomarker at just a single molecule, giving health care officials the ability to fight Ebola at the earliest stages.
“Once someone has the symptoms of Ebola, it’s already too late and that person can spread the disease,” said Wesley Baker, Ancon Medical president. “It’s crucial to find diseases like Ebola at its earliest point of infection, before they are showing the signs. However, once the body is infected, it will begin giving off the chemical ‘fingerprints’ of the disease, and Ancon Medical’s NBT device can find these chemical signals, even at their faintest concentrations.”
The outbreaks of Ebola in the U.S. and Europe show that international travel puts the disease in reach of any country. A recent study noted that three Ebola-infected people could depart from affected African countries each month. This places an even higher importance on the need for portable and affordable screening devices.
“The current Ancon Medical NBT prototype is portable, being about the size of a small suitcase, but with further development, the device can be further miniaturized to be about the size of a toaster”, Baker said. Furthermore, with cloud connectivity, this device would be versatile enough to screen for a wide range of diseases, including Ebola, lung cancer, tuberculosis and others.
The incubation period for Ebola in humans is between two and 21 days, which is the time elapsed from infection until when symptoms begin to show. Humans can’t spread Ebola until they show symptoms, so discovering it early is vital for prevention efforts. Currently, the best way to test for Ebola is with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, which can analyze the DNA from blood samples, but requires a laboratory setting and takes anywhere from 12 hours to four days to produce a result.
“Other early detection methods for Ebola require a blood sample, which takes specialized medical training, a laboratory environment and can expose health care workers to some risks,” Baker said. “But Ancon Medical’s NBT device can give public health officials an easy-to-use screening device that can be brought into a wide range of places, including airports, train stations, rural clinics and other vital locations where it is crucial to find potentially infected individuals before they can spread the disease.”
Another issue with diagnosis of Ebola is that it has similar symptoms to more common diseases, like Marburg and Lassa fevers. A new study from Boston University School of Medicine and the US Army Medical Research Institute shows that it’s possible to distinguish between different hemorrhagic fevers before they become symptomatic. However, researchers warned that their discovery didn’t create a realistic timeline for developing a test.
However, researchers at Ancon Medical project that they could find the Ebola biomarker in as quickly as two months, once the company can attract the funding needed for the project, and to help advance its research and funding for the NBT device, Ancon Medical Inc. has located its offices in the LifeScience Alley area of Minnesota, which is quickly becoming one of the best places in the world for medical device research and development.
“We know that if there is one place where a technology like Nanoparticle Biomarker Tagging can find the support it needs at this early stage, it’s in Minnesota’s LifeScience Alley,” Baker said. “Over the course of the next few years, Ancon Medical will continue to seek investment into the NBT project, including pursuit of public health grants from organizations such as The Gates Foundation, as well as other public and private funding opportunities.”
Federal Drug Administration approval for the NBT screening device could be complete in two years, making the device ready to hit the market as early as the third quarter of 2016. Ancon Medical, has licensed patents on NBT technology.