As the Department of Energy scrambles to find a contractor to commercialize a test that can diagnose cases of Ebola within minutes, a number of private contractors are working on their own versions of the technology.
Colorado-based Corgenix has partnered with Tulane University to develop a rapid diagnostic kit. A production-ready version is several months in the offing, according to reports. Another vendor, Nanōmix, is also participating. It offers a device that can check for multiple infections at once. “We did do some field testing, but we need to do more,” Tulane scientist Dr. Robert Garry told The New Republic.
The U.S. military is also using commercially produced hardware in the fight to contain Ebola. Troops deployed to western Africa are screening suspected patients with a device called FilmArray, from BioFire Diagnostics of Salt Lake City. The box scans for the genetic markers of Ebola and a number of other viruses. “It will take the Ebola cells, break them open, expose the [ribonucleic acid] in the Ebola and match those with a target we’ve identified,” BioFire reps said in a statement to DefenseOne.
The New York Post reported on Thursday that startup Nanobiosym has “an iPhone-sized device” that can detect Ebola and other diseases in less than an hour. Numerous other companies are working on technologies that can be used to support Ebola containment efforts to the point at which investors are now tracking the market.
The efforts come as the DOE, as first reported by International Business Times, is weighing mass production of a fast-acting Ebola test developed at its Oak Ridge National Laboratory outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.
In a solicitation-for-contractors document, DOE describes its test as a “rapid, portable viral diagnostic for RNA viruses,” including, specifically, Ebola hemorrhagic fever. RNA viruses are made from genetic material comprising ribonucleic acid. In addition to Ebola, the DOE said the test can quickly detect Hanta, Dengue, West Nile and several other exotic viruses.
An expert who viewed DOE patent documents on behalf of IBTimes said the technology appears to be a legitimate breakthrough. Dr. Amar Safdar, director for Transplant Infectious Diseases at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, said it could significantly reduce the time and cost of diagnosing new Ebola cases. “It’s cutting edge,” said Safdar.
Health care facilities currently test for Ebola using a method known as polymerase chain reaction. The method requires several steps in a lab to isolate and then amplify the virus’ RNA.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak has to date claimed about 4,500 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. There has been one death in the U.S. Thomas Eric Duncan passed away after traveling from Liberia to a hospital in Dallas. Two nurses who treated Duncan were infected and are receiving treatment.