New device that can rapidly diagnose disease could save lives

Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy

Scientists have developed a new device that can rapidly screen the blood in just minutes to detect a range of pathogens that cause disease, in a breakthrough that could fast-track the way disease or infection is diagnosed and treated.

Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy.
Image: ABC News (Eric Tlozek).

Monash biospectroscopists have just been issued a US patent for the diagnostic technology they hope will one day help doctors to diagnose and treat patients much faster than current pathology methods, which can take 24-48 hours to return blood sample results.

From a sample of blood, or other body fluids, it has the potential to diagnose serious diseases within an hour, including bacterial or fungal infection, HIV, hepatitis and diabetes. It can also create a full blood profile – testing for haemoglobin or blood-sugar levels, or urea in the blood, giving the overall health status of a patient simultaneously.

The technology is a small spectrometer that uses infrared light to analyse disease-causing pathogens in the blood. Each pathogen has a unique chemical fingerprint and it's from this fingerprint a diagnosis can be done. The portable device weighs about seven kilograms and is powered by a small battery.

A US patent was issued for the technology last year for its ability to detect malaria, but the multi-disease diagnostic has since been expanded with this second patent to detect all pathogens in blood. The patents, which have been licensed to Biotech Resources (Aust) Pty. Ltd. (BTR), are the first of a kind to utilise spectroscopy to quantify pathogens in blood. BTR will commercialise the product, to be known as ‘Aimalux’.

The diagnostic technique is the brainchild of co-inventors Dr Philip Heraud, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Co-Director of the Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy, Professor Bayden Wood, Co-Director the Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy, and Dr David Perez-Guaita, School of Chemistry.

The team is currently trialling patients in the detection of bacterial and fungal pathogens in the blood that cause the deadly bacterial infection sepsis, in collaboration with Professor Anton Peleg, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Alfred Hospital.

“This technology represents a paradigm shift for disease diagnostics and has such been recognised with patent rights,” Professor Wood said.

“It means doctors could triage a patient faster and more effectively than ever before - right at the point of care. Current techniques can take days to return a diagnosis – but this technique can provide initial diagnoses within an hour, allowing patients with life-threatening infections or illness to be treated without delay.”

The portable device is low cost, faster and more efficient, and suitable to withstand harsh environments, making it a game-changer for disease diagnostics in poor, remote communities. The researchers last year tested the device in remote villages in Papua New Guinea to detect those who harbour the malaria parasite.

“This type of field trial shows we also have the capacity to use this technology during humanitarian disasters or in refugee camps to rapidly diagnose disease and illness,” Dr Heraud said.

The next step is to commercialise and refine the technology. Researchers hope the device could be approved for used in hospitals and field settings in the next three to four years.

Further information:
Silvia Dropulich
Marketing, Media & Communications Manager, Monash Science
T: +61 3 9902 4513 M: +61 (0) 0435138743