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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
TEXAS: University of Texas Project Gets Gates Grant to Find Quick Tuberculosis Test
Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
January 5, 2012
Austin American-Statesman (12.27.11) - Thursday, January 05,

A University of Texas chemistry and biochemistry professor's idea for a TB diagnostic is one of 22 concepts to share in more than $31 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada. Andrew Ellington has received a $1.6 million grant to develop a paper-based test for TB using a patient's saliva.

Current laboratory methods for diagnosing TB require expensive equipment, refrigeration, and skilled technicians, which can be scarce in developing countries. If samples must be cultured, results can take weeks in the best of circumstances.

Ellington said he was inspired to develop the paper test by learning of the gaps in testing for drug-resistant TB in Afghanistan, where one of his undergraduate students, Grace Eckhoff, researched TB. "It was the sort of thing where I was educated by my own student" about the public health shortcomings faced by poor countries, he said. Eckhoff has since graduated and received a prestigious Marshall Scholarship to study in London.

Ellington's team will work to devise a small paper strip embedded with bits of synthetic DNA in a sort of biological circuit board. A patient would spit onto the paper, with a change in color indicating that the person has TB, including drug-resistant strains. No refrigeration would be needed.

The challenge is to engineer the DNA circuit board to enhance the signal from a few molecules of TB bacteria to produce the color change on paper, said team member and postdoctoral researcher Xi Chen. Discovering how to best amplify that signal in the DNA circuit could take years, Ellington said.

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