Researchers at Colorado State University have found a new way to detect traces of tuberculosis bacteria in fluids that would allow for a more sensitive and accurate detection of the deadly disease.
The research by Dr. Diego Krapf, Assistant Professor of electrical and computer engineering and a faculty member in the School of Biomedical Engineering, was recently recognized by the Optical Society of America for its potential use in developing countries that face a greater risk of TB and its prospective use to detect latent cases of TB. Working with Dr. Krapf on the project are Drs. Mike McNeil, Mike Scherman and John Spencer in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The end goal of the research is to develop a platform for the detection of TB that is portable, affordable and does not require highly trained personnel. The detection techniques now used in the United States require special facilities and training that would be far too expensive for widespread use in the developing world where there are scarce resources and high incidences of the disease. Current technologies used in these areas have only a 60 percent sensitivity for TB detection. These tests also are unable to detect latent forms of TB.
“The problem of TB at the base of the pyramid - in areas lacking the minimal resources such as water and medical facilities - is extremely severe,” Dr. Krapf said. “More than 1.5 million people die of tuberculosis every year. It is estimated that two billion people carry a form of latent TB and 10 percent of them will develop active TB during their lifetime. The detection problem is so drastic that at least half of these people do not know they carry the disease.”
Dr. Krapf has developed a biosensor that uses a combination of chemistry and lasers to isolate proteins prevalent in TB. He mixes a sample with fluorescent antibodies for the targeted TB proteins and coats the glass slide with a molecular brush that will stick only to those proteins. Using a home-made microscope, Dr. Krapf can determine whether a large number of the proteins are present, which indicates the test is positive for TB.
Also on the team are biomedical engineering graduate students Kristen Jevsevar and Aubrey Weigel. Undergraduate students Jeremy Stone and Nathan Proper are working to develop a smaller and cheaper version of the biosensor – now tabletop size – to use in the developing world.