Jan 192011
Authors: Rachel Childs

This article reported that Dr. Nick Fisk was an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He is an assistant professor. The Collegian regrets its error.

The word “virus” is typically met with a cringe, but that could be changing with the new technology a team of researchers at CSU is using to find a cheaper and faster method of detecting tuberculosis.

Nick Fisk, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and a three-person team of researchers are in the early stages of engineering a virus that would detect TB in a urine test.

Once developed, the virus will act as a sensor to detect the proteins associated with active TB infections, revealing whether a person has contracted the disease or not. The test is geared toward point-of-care procedures similar to a swab for strep throat in that it will be simple and fast.

Fisk’s method would detect TB with a urine test by inserting the virus into the urine and using something as simple as a laser on colored glass to illuminate the fluorescent glow. It will reduce costs and minimize the use of equipment associated with expensive, highly specialized DNA and immunology tests.

“A virus is really very useful structure,” Fisk said. “Generally they make you sick, but as far as a nano-technological object, they are very, very promising things.”

The project will need to be tested for several years before it can enter the global market. The team will go through billions of molecular combinations to find the right mix that will detect the protein.

Once the virus is engineered, it will be more accurate than a phlegm test, the most common method, which can take weeks to produce results. The 100-year-old test takes phlegm from the lungs and examines it under a microscope. Roughly half of infected cases are not detected with the phlegm test, according to the TB Alliance, an international organization that works to develop new drugs to fight the disease.

“It would find not only the bacterial cells but products that are being produced and released by the bacteria,” said John Belisle, CSU professor of bacteriology.

The project received a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a part of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative to expand testing for the world’s most pressing global health problems. Fisk’s was one of 78 grants awarded to scientists from 18 countries and six continents.

Countries like South Africa will benefit from the less-expensive system, where 300 out of 100,000 people are infected every day, far greater than zero to 24 people per 100,000 in the United States.

“Professor Fisk is investigating a very promising technique for tuberculosis detection, and we are optimistic that his work will have global impact,” said David Dandy, head of the department of chemical and biological engineering.

Crime Beat Reporter Rachel Childs can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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