12:14pm Monday 21 October 2019

Researchers call on community to help fight melioidosis

Melioidosis is difficult to diagnose, which is a contributing factor to the high mortality rate of the disease, ranging from 16 per cent in northern Australia to 40 per cent in northeast Thailand.

It is caused by the multidrug-resistant bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is endemic in tropical regions of Australia such as Townsville and Darwin. It is also listed as a potential bioterror agent.

While previous sensitive tests took 3–4 days to obtain a result, the new multiplex diagnostic test for melioidosis, called ‘2DIA’ can take 3 hours to obtain a result.

Dr Alanna Sorenson, from JCU’s Supramolecular and Synthetic Biology Group, led by Associate Professor Patrick Schaeffer, said the 2DIA worked by detecting a subset of specific antibodies that are released in the blood of all patients infected by the bacterium.

Dr Sorenson, who developed the initial proof-of-concept technology, said they were now aiming to attract funding to convert the 2DIA into a rapid, life-saving bedside test similar in action to a pregnancy stick test.

“We are hoping to get funding from a variety of sources, including people who live in the tropics and are concerned about melioidosis,” she said.

“This may be people who have been touched by melioidosis in some way; either themselves or someone they know, people who are interested in tropical health and people who are interested in medical research.

“As such, we have today launched a crowd funding initiative titled Help Fight Melioidosis, through Pozible, an online crowd funding platform.”

Crowd funding is the process where projects are funded by soliciting small contributions from a large group of people, usually through online sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

“The researchers are aiming to raise $20,000 towards materials needed to develop and validate a rapid form of the 2DIA, potentially needing only a drop of blood from a finger prick,” Dr Sorenson said.

Dr Sorenson said people or businesses who are interested in providing funding can pledge an amount they are comfortable with to the project through the Pozible crowd funding website.

Donors will only have to pay if the project can attract enough pledges of funds to make up the $20,000. 

Dr Sorenson said people or businesses can pledge any amount but small donations around $20 were most common. There are rewards for different levels of donations, ranging from shout-outs on Twitter to lab tours and personal acknowledgement in scientific papers.

Dr Sorenson said the test, when made a reality, would be a real breakthrough further improving melioidosis diagnosis and patient outcome.

To find out more, or to donate, visit www.pozible.com and search in the research category for “Help Fight Melioidosis”.

The development of the new 2DIA diagnostic test involved researchers from JCU and The Townsville Hospital, and was funded by the Queensland Government’s Smart Futures Fund.

Reference: Improved diagnosis of melioidosis using a two-dimensional immunoarray, Diagnostic Microbiology & Infectious Disease, Alanna E. Sorenson, Natasha L. Williams, Jodie L. Morris, Natkunam Ketheesan, Robert E. Norton, Patrick M. Schaeffer: DOI information: 10.1016/j.diagmicrobio.2013.07.009

For interviews or photos, contact:

Associate Professor Patrick Schaeffer on mobile 0457 056 929 or Patrick.schaeffer@jcu.edu.au

Dr Alanna Sorenson on (07) 4781 6388 or email alanna.sorenson@jcu.edu.au

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175

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