Anthrax poses a significant threat to U.S. national security as demonstrated by the 2001 terrorist attacks targeting the U.S. Postal Service and Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The causative agent, Bacillus anthracis, is ubiquitous worldwide, making this an international concern.
Anthrax outbreaks are common in livestock globally, and pose significant risks to animal and public health. Diagnosis often requires isolation and culture of the organism, which can be extremely dangerous if not carried out in appropriate laboratory conditions. These conditions are often absent in low-resource environments, creating safety and security risks in countries where diagnosis of the disease is critical for animal and/or public health purposes.
A Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project at Sandia National Laboratories to develop an anthrax detection sensor for low-resource environments has resulted in the Anthrax Detection Cartridge, an inexpensive, fast, and portable device that requires no power to run, and minimal training to operate. It provides highly reliable anthrax detection in controlled environments, rivaling the selectivity of rigorous laboratory analysis.
The Anthrax Detection Cartridge is a self-contained, credit-card sized test system which cultures a sample in a patent-pending amplification chamber using selective growth media. It tests it with a lateral flow assay (LFA) to determine if it is dangerous anthrax, and then eliminates the sample threat with disinfectant. Once a sample is inserted, patent-pending magnetically operated valves allow the sample to advance from stage to stage to complete the testing process.
Aquila, a woman-owned small business based in New Mexico that specializes in the design and manufacture of technologies and services for nuclear security and international safeguards, is licensing the Anthrax Detection Cartridge technology and is getting ready to manufacture the devices. They see a lot of potential for their government customers as well as commercial markets. With minor modifications, simply swapping out the selective growth medium and LFA strip, the cartridges can be adapted to detect other bacteria, such as salmonella in agricultural settings, as well as bacteria of medical interest.
While Aquila has licensed other Sandia technologies in the past, they are particularly enthusiastic about the Anthrax Detection Cartridge. They feel that the technical support and collaboration with Sandia researchers, as well as the smooth and rapid licensing process, have both been excellent. An Umbrella Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between Aquila and Sandia should result in more collaboration on this and other joint projects.
The Anthrax Detection Cartridge is a sophisticated and complex device that has become successful due to its engineered simplicity. Sandia is continuing to refine the technology and adapt it for other markets interested in rapid detection of biological hazards.