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Tuesday, Jul 23, 2024
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Cheap Backwoods Assay Would Pinpoint Insidious Disease

Encounters with ticks are a bad byproduct of a pleasant walk in the woods.

A San Diego company is harnessing technology found in home pregnancy tests to help hikers and outdoor enthusiasts determine if a tick bite presents a risk for Lyme disease.

It is part of what nanoComposix CEO Steve Oldenburg calls “a coming revolution” in smartphone-based readers that can take lateral flow assays and determine how strong or faint a reading is. The current generation of lateral flow assays — such as the two-line pregnancy detection tests — is more suited to yes-no questions.

The inexpensive test for Lyme disease, carried along on a hike, could tell a hiker whether he or she encountered an infected tick and could clarify the hiker’s next step: return to civilization quickly for some antibiotics, or continue the vacation without worry.

NanoComposix is working on the project under a $1 million grant from the Defense Department.

“We have a working assay. We’re doing studies that will allow us to finish,” Oldenburg said.

Ticks with Lyme disease are commonly found in the Northeastern United States and Michigan.

The test — which could hit the market as early as 2018 — would feature a miniature grinder to grind up the tick found on the person, as well as a lateral flow assay (similar to an over-the-counter pregnancy test) to test the tick’s juices and see if the arachnid had Lyme disease. An application in a hiker’s smartphone would have to interpret the reading provided by the lateral flow assay.

The phone would also capture location information on the incident, gathering useful public health information on Lyme disease outbreaks. “You’ve basically corralled of all these people testing the ticks, and you’re sending it up to a cloud database, and then you get instant data on hotspots,” Oldenburg said.

Real time data on Lyme disease outbreaks is “really hard to get,” he said.

Tick bites aren’t immediately dangerous, but time is of the essence.

“With Lyme disease, [if] you hit it right away with antibiotics, you’re good. You wait a week and it incubates, it’s totally insidious [and] it’s a total disaster for people,” said Oldenburg.

The government is giving the test a relatively quick trip through the regulatory process because it doesn’t test a person.

“There is no regulatory hurdle for testing a tick,” Oldenburg said.

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