Grant From Gates Foundation Boosts TB-Fighting Technology


Funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help advance the development of technology for a quick and low-cost means of detecting tuberculosis. 

A new device that separates TB cells from other cells in a sample within hours was developed by graduate students Shari Yosinski and Monika Weber with advisor Mark Reed, Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Electrical Engineering, in collaboration with British biotech firm QuantuMdx Group. 

Early detection of tuberculosis is critical to minimizing transmission, and other risks of the disease. Current diagnostic tests, however, take up to three days to produce results. A rapid, low-cost detection technology, used in clinics and hospitals in high-burden countries could go a long way toward reaching the 4.3 million people with TB who go untreated by healthcare systems each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of the world’s population is infected with TB, an infectious disease that generally attacks the lungs. In 2014, there were 1.5 million TB-related deaths worldwide. 

“Our device uses a technology called dielectrophoresis (DEP), which allows us to pull out and set aside the TB cells from the other cells that might be in the sample,” Reed said, adding that the device traps the cells by employing frequency-dependent phenomena. “We can tune the device to a certain frequency to capture one type of cell over another. And we worked out the various types of things that will trap the TB cells over other types of cells.” 

The device is one half of a two-part system. The other half of the technology confirms that the cells that have been trapped are in fact from TB. 

With the funding from the Gates Foundation, Reed said he and the other researchers can work on making the technology even more efficient. The goal is to make the device capable of capturing a very small number of TB cells, which would further reduce the time and cost of the process.

Officials at QuantuMdx said that making the technology accessible throughout low- to middle-income countries will help meet international goals for eradicating TB.

“We are thrilled that the Gates Foundation is funding this project,” said QuantuMDx’s CEO Elaine Warburton OBE, adding that “the technologies will truly provide that elusive solution to early TB detection, leading to quick and precise treatment, thus reducing disease transmission and death.”