Hand-held device to detect infectious pathogens

By David L. Brown

A new high-tech device to detect dangerous pathogens in ordinary medical sttuations is being developed through a partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Biomagnetics Diagnostics Corporation (BMCP). Described as “optical biosensors,” the devices are based on technology developed and patented by LANL.

Being battery powered, the hand-held optical detectors will have the advantage of portability. Simple to use, they will allow on-the-spot medical screening without requiring the services of a medical laboratory.  Able to automatically detect the presence of various viral and bacterial pathogens, they can be used by relatively untrained medical personnel. The sensors give a result almost instantly. Think Mr. Spock with a TriCorder here.

The original concept was developed by LANL for use by first responders in potential homeland security emergencies, such as the release of anthrax or other “weaponized” pathogens in biological terror attacks, dealing with a pandemic, or in case of an accidental release of dangerous germs or viruses.

BMCP has been given a non-exclusive license to develop the product for general medical applications, according to a news release from LANL. Based on prototype sensors developed at the National Lab, the diagnostic tools use laser light to identify potentially dangerous pathogens by “triggering fluorescence changes identified almost immediately by tiny-on-board detectors,” according to a LANL news release.

LANL, located at Los Alamos, NM, is managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by a consortium between four U.S. organizations, Bechtel National, University of California, BWX Technologies (a unit of Babcock & Wilcox), and the Washington Division of URS Corporation. BMCP is headquartered in Orangevale, CA.

Through the partnership with BMCP, the technology will be adapted for everyday use in making quick diagnoses. This could be extremely valuable in many everyday uses, including blood bank screening or for quick and convenient diagnosis in hospital emergency rooms or doctor’s offices.

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