Center seeks new diarrheal disease tests
BALTIMORE - Researchers hope to develop faster and better tests for diarrheal diseases with the help of a $5.6 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to a vaccine development center a
"Our goal is to provide a quantum leap in diagnostic technology for diarrheal diseases, so that for the first time, clinicians can quickly, comprehensively and with little onsite expertise ascertain the causes of these diseases in even the most remote of settings," said Dr. James P. Nataro, associate director of the university's Center for Vaccine Development.
A major obstacle in fighting the diseases is the large number of bacteria, viruses, parasites and other pathogens that cause the diseases. Cholera and a type of E. coli account for about 40 percent of reported cases.
The standard practice in the United States is to send a fecal sample to a medical laboratory, where a large number of tests are performed. However, the tests are expensive and require expertise and equipment not often available in the developing world.
The center plans to use computer-assisted molecular technologies to develop a single test for all of the important organisms involved in diarrheal diseases. The researchers hope to eliminate the need for fresh fecal samples so tests can be performed at laboratories far from the children affected by the disease.
Researchers will also work to identify new pathogens that cause the infections, which account for at least 18 percent of deaths in children under the age of five worldwide.
"If we are successful, we foresee a day when a team of investigators can enter an area with their mobile technology and quickly and accurately determine the pathogenic source of an outbreak, which will undoubtedly lead to more timely treatment and better vaccines for patients," Nataro said.
The researchers hope the technology will also lead to regional centers that will process samples from outlying areas, helping provide global surveillance of emerging infectious diseases.
The research program will include subcontracts to San Diego-based Illumina Inc., and Carlsbad, Calif.-based Ibis Biosciences, the university announced.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, created in 2000, is the world's largest philanthropic foundation with an endowment of about $33 billion. It concentrates on promoting global health, ending poverty and hunger, and enhancing education.
The grant announced Tuesday follows a $27.9 million grant by the foundation to the University of Maryland center last year to study diarrheal diseases in Africa and Asia with an eye toward developing vaccines and other public health measures to prevent illness and death from those diseases.
Last year, the foundation also announced it was giving a nonprofit San Francisco pharmaceutical company $46 million to expand its research on new treatments for diarrheal disease, which directly kills more than 2 million children worldwide each year.
The traditional treatment for the disease, which also contributes to the death of an additional 4 million children annually, is rehydration. OneWorld Health said it is working on drugs that inhibit fluid loss in the intestine.
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