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Mobile testing for Ebola gains renewed urgency as outbreak grows

Matt Hamblen | Aug. 14, 2014
PositiveID has a handheld prototype device that could be ready for use within two years.

Firefly can also be used to detect radiation poisoning from a blood sample to determine the exact level of radiation exposure, which can useful for patients undergoing cancer treatment as well as astronauts in outer space, Probst said.

"The largest application will be for diseases, including flu and Ebola or a pathogen that comes into the country intentionally or unintentionally," Probst said. It could even be used to test cows for Mad Cow disease, he said.

Probst was trained originally as a biologist, but also holds an MBA and manages the business side of PositiveID, which employs just 10 full-time staff. Manufacturing and other processes are outsourced.

Work on Firefly is obviously timely, given the current Ebola outbreak and likely outbreaks in the future.

The WHO has urged all nations, including the U.S., to be prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases, including providing access to a qualified diagnostic lab for Ebola detection at international airports and major land crossing points.

Probst said he thinks other companies might be developing mobile Ebola testing devices, but placed PositiveID on the "cutting edge" of development.

A Denver company, Corgenix Medical, is also working on a rapid diagnostic test kit for Ebola, but the work is in early stages and could last another three years, according to a statement released Monday. It isn't clear whether the Corgenix test kit would be used as a mobile device like the Firefly, or in some other form like a home test kit. Corgenix didn't respond to a request to comment.

Corgenix is working with the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium headed by Tulane University to use a $2.9 million National Institutes of Health grant to accelerate efforts to develop rapid result diagnostic kits to be ready by the time of the next Ebola outbreak.


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