New molecular point-of-care testing systems already being tested in several African countries

Pathologists will be interested to learn that sophisticated point-of-care molecular diagnostics testing is now being done on livestock in farms. This is a giant leap forward for point-of-care testing, as there are now commercially available suitcase-sized devices used to perform molecular diagnostic tests for avian flu in livestock. These molecular testing systems are undergoing trials in Africa, primarily Sudan and Kenya.

Development of the devices was partially funded through a joint project of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The organizations are concerned about trans-boundary animal diseases that, like the avian flu, can cross from one species to another. These agencies funded research to develop molecular diagnostic methods to rapidly identify such diseases. The avian flu test is the first to make use of this new molecular technology.

According to Dr. Hermann Unger, Technical Officer of the IAEA’s Animal Production and Health Section, three separate groups each came up with a different portable test technology to identify the avian flu virus. Two of the tests use either a blood or nasal swab that is inserted into a cartridge, which is then placed into an electronic reader. The devices take about 70 minutes to report back whether the sample was positive for a specific disease.

A third method, developed by the IAEA labs, requires boiling of the sample to extract the testing components. It also uses an electronic reader to analyze the sample. All three devices are intended to be simple enough for use in the field by non-professionals and require only minimal training. Though avian flu is the first test available for the devices, other tests are in the works.

In rural areas, where veterinary resources are limited, the devices will help communities identify and respond to disease more quickly. Each of the devices is equipped with a GSM mobile phone to transmit results back to a central lab, so that veterinary help can be summoned. To be effective, said Unger, the devices must be used within the context of network to monitor animal health and disease prevalence. In Africa, the testing is being done in cooperation with local governments.

Though the devices are currently limited to veterinary uses, experts predict these molecular and supporting technologies to quickly jump to human medical uses. Though it is not likely to replace laboratory-based molecular diagnostic technology anytime soon, the devices could be extremely helpful to rural medical workers who have limited access to medical laboratories. These molecular point-of-care tests could also be useful in quickly identifying patients in disease epidemics, such as the swine flu scare of last year. In that pandemic, definitive diagnosis of swine flu often took days, complicating attempts to curb the spread of the virus.

Dark Daily readers are familiar with the rapid growth of other human point-of-care testing, particularly in rural areas. In sparsely-populated areas of South Australia, point-of-care testing devices, combined with telemedicine networks, have significantly improved diagnosis and treatment in underserved communities, cutting in-hospital cardiac deaths by half.

—K. Branz

Related Information:

Molecular Diagnostic Methods Help Identify Disease In Livestock

The Agency supports portable diagnostic devices to enhance “at-source” control of transboundary animal diseases

Use of Point-of-Care Testing in South Australia Reduces Mortality by 50% (The Dark Report, March 29, 2010)