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Livermore Lab to Develop Nanostring-based Biothreat Dx Tests

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has landed a $2.4 million grant to work with university partners to develop biodefense-focused pathogen tests based on a platform from NanoString Technologies, LLNL said today.

The aim of the project funded by the National Institutes of Health's Partnerships for Biodefense program, is to develop assays for detecting a wide range of viral pathogens that could be used as bioweapons or which could arise unintentionally.

The LLNL-led effort will include researchers from the University of Texas Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, as well as Seattle-based NanoString.

Specifically, the partners will develop assays that use NanoString's nCounter platform that will be capable of detecting 35 viral pathogens across the spectrum of threat and danger levels, including Ebola, Marburg, Chikungunya, and others, as well as less dangerous common flu and cold varieties, according to LLNL.

A test that can differentiate between more common infections and their more dangerous counterparts is necessary because sufferers may present with the same set of symptoms – headaches, nausea, fever – with all of these diseases, and in an outbreak situation responders will need to be able to stratify patients.

"This product will help prevent one of the main things a terrorist group would want, which is to overwhelm emergency response," explained LLNL researcher and lead investigator Pejman Naraghi-Arani, in a statement.

The platform would be able to test more than 100 samples per day and return results in 24 hours, and would be able to test for elevated cytokine and chemokine markers of infection, as well as the 35 viruses.

"One of the main reasons this system is important is that it enables us to make real diagnosis of diseases as opposed to looking at very general kinds of symptoms and guessing," Naraghi-Arani said. "This kind of research also helps us to identify specific biomarkers associated with these very dangerous pathogens and allows us to develop even better tools for mitigation, such as novel antivirals."

LLNL said that when the project is completed in 2014 the partners will have a real, commercial product that would be ready to deploy as a response to an attack.

Naraghi-Arani also believes it will have applications beyond bioterrorism response.

"There are definite real-world applications right now in the United States with emerging diseases that we know could be an issue," he said. "It would be great to have these tools available, even without the presence of a biological attack, because we need to be able to respond quickly."

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