Calgary researchers say new tool will make testing for infections easier

  • Mar. 13, 2018 4:32 p.m.

CALGARY — University of Calgary researchers say a new device based on the simple glucose meter used by diabetics should make it easier to test humans and animals for infections.

“I realized that the glucometer being used by diabetics around the world is very mature technology. In a small pinprick of blood you can get your measurements and basically you detect glucose,” said associate professor Jeroen De Buck from the school’s faculty of veterinary medicine .

“We aimed to develop a technology similar in design and function but with the versatility to detect a wide range of signals of infection.”

The new method tests for things such as specific antibodies in blood, milk or saliva samples.

De Buck and PhD student Marija Drikic have created a biosensor that uses an engineered enzyme that converts infection signals into glucose. The glucose can be measured to test for animal or human chronic and infectious diseases.

“It can indeed be used on any animal species, including humans, because it is kind of universal in how the enzyme is activated by those antibodies or proteins in the blood. It doesn’t rely on any specific characteristic — human or animal,” De Buck said.

“A cow infected with bovine leukemia virus produces antibodies as a response. Our biosensor will detect the antibodies in a pinprick of blood.”

The findings outlining the biochemistry behind the sensor have been published in Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

De Buck said they are now testing prototypes and hope to have devices to put in the hands of veterinarians to use as part of the validation phase.

“We are continuously improving it to make it faster so it is more convenient for the user to get a quick answer.”

De Buck said it currently requires 20 to 30 minutes to come to a diagnosis. He would like that reduced to a couple of minutes.

He hopes to eventually see the biosensor made available to veterinarians, medical professionals and even pet owners.

The research has been supported with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Alberta Milk.

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