By Katelyn Smith
During the “From Detection to Diagnosis to Vaccines” symposium, we were able to hear about research projects and product development from all over the United States pertaining to detection, diagnosis, and/or vaccines. Each of the six speakers, ranging from engineer to scientist, brought something unique and different to the table, from a dog’s nose, to immunoassays, to accelerated vaccines.
The first speaker was Matthew Staymates, a mechanical engineer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who spoke on a project titled “Non-Contact Aerodynamic Sampling Approaches for Aerosols and Airborne Particles: Lessons Learned from the Dog Nose”. This project focused primarily on the olfaction background of canines, studying how a dog’s nose is a great detector system, and is “considered the gold standard in trace chemical sampling”. Matthew spoke about how this research included looking into the fluid dynamics of the olfaction system of a canine, and how important biomimicry may be. He ended his session by asking this question: “Is there a smarter way to sample our environment (based on lessons learned from the dog’s nose)?”.
Up next was E. R. Hofmann, from Excet, Inc. and RDECOM Chemical and Biological Center, presenting on a product development project titled “BlindSpot: A Novel Multiplex Lateral Flow Immunoassay [LFI] Format for Rapid Evaluation of Results Potentially Using a Cell Phone App”. BlindSpot would work similarly to a drug-store pregnancy test, where the LFI is an antibody and based on a sample, it will test for present biological warfare agents. This device would be handheld, and the sample being tested can be wet or dry, with presence or absence of an agent showing up as “positive” or “negative” on the BlindSpot detection lines.
Derrick Hau, from University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, was the third speaker. He presented a project titled “Optimization of a Lateral Flow Immunoassay (LFI) for the Rapid Diagnosis of Plague”. Similar to the above product development project, this LFI would be able to rapidly diagnose the plague, whose causative biological agent is Yersinia pestis. This agent is responsible for the 14thcentury plague that wiped out approximately 60% of Europe’s population.
The next presenter, Neeraja Venkateswaran, from Tetracore, Inc. spoke in detail about how both biosurveillence and the response to biological agents that pose as a threat can be improved by the improvement and strengthening of certain detection methods. This presentation was titled “Development and Validation of Novel Multiplex Lateral Flow Assays (LFAs) and a Handheld LFA Reader”. A portable and handheld tool like this would be an incredible instrument for First Responders, as well as those in the field. This tool would test the sample area and translate the analysis to tablet and cell phone readers for a proper diagnosis. The project, like many of the others, stated that “availability of sensitive, rapid and cost-effective tests will significantly enhance our capability”, which is incredibly true and is the direction that biosurveillence research is heading.
The fourth speaker was Jessica Kubicek-Sutherland, from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, presented on a project titled “Towards a Fieldable Biosensor for Detecting Bacterial Select Agent Pathogens”. Jessica opened this presentation by explain that diagnostics and detection capabilities must be “universal, rapid, and deployable”. She described “universal” as needing something that can recognize many or all pathogens- not just a select few. She described “rapid and deployable” as sensors that would be “ultra-sensitive, highly specific, and automated”. She ended this presentation by describing that there is a need for this type of finding- detection that can produce quantitative results in minutes.
Last but not least, Bethany Biron, from Epivax Inc., presented a project titled “Accelerated Vaccine Design for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biodefense”. At Epivax, a team has been working on an accelerated vaccine toolkit, which they called “iVAX toolkit”. This toolkit has a unique vaccine design approach that can be applied to many different vaccine platforms. The iVAX toolkit has been and is currently being tested in multiple case studies. Bethany closed this presentation by stating “The iVAX toolkit provides a rapid, efficient, easily accessible, and broadly applicable solution for accelerating the development”.
All of the presentations were incredibly engaging, and it was interesting to be able to listen to all these new product development projects, many of which I had limited prior knowledge of. Studying in the biodefense field, I realize just how important research and projects like these are. Developing reliable and fast biosensors, strengthening our biosurveillence, and strengthening countermeasures to diseases with vaccines are three substantial areas in the field of biodefense that have much room for growth. The future of science, technology, and biodefense will continue to interconnect and overlap to strengthen areas such as detection, diagnosis, and vaccines.