AUSTIN, Texas, Dec. 27 (UPI) — A Texas researcher says he’s received a $1.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to research a quick, affordable test for tuberculosis.
University of Texas chemistry Professor Andrew Ellington says such a test would be valuable in poor countries where current methods of testing samples for tuberculosis require expensive equipment, refrigeration and skilled technicians.
Similar to the urine test strip women use to see if they are pregnant, the test strip being developed by Ellington would change color if tuberculosis bacteria was present in saliva from a patient applied to the strip, the Austin American-Statesman reported Monday.
Existing similar test strips are crude and not very sensitive, Ellington said.
“You’d have to be almost overrun with the microorganism to detect it,” Ellington said, adding by way of analogy: “A pregnancy test kit is not much good at the eighth month.”
The strip Ellington is working on is embedded with bits of synthetic DNA in a kind of biological circuit board that reacts to the presence of molecules of tuberculosis bacteria in a saliva sample.
The challenge is to engineer the DNA to pump up the signal from a few telltale molecules to a more detectable level that produces a color change in the paper, researchers said.
“We are trying to re-engineer some of the things nature has made,” postdoctoral researcher Peter Allen said. “That’s a big challenge.”