The team developed a new system for identifying different genetic strains of the TB-causing bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosum.
"The technique provides a faster, cheaper and more precise method of testing for these strains," said Paul Keim, NAU Regents Professor and the Cowden Endowed Chair in Microbiology, the lead member of the three-person NAU team. Also named on the patent are James Schupp, assistant director of the Microbial Genetics and Genomics Center at NAU, and Robert Scott Spurgiesz, a former undergraduate student.
The speed and accuracy of this new genetic subtyping system will boost efforts to identify the sources of TB infection. In what Keim describes as "molecular sleuthing," the system will allow health professionals to track down how a person became infected with TB. The "DNA fingerprint" from an infected individual will be compared with other samples in a national database to backtrack an infectious strain to its point of origin.
"We can identify where a TB infection came from and control it at its source," said Keim.
The methodology used to develop the typing system for M. tuberculosum is similar to the technique Keim and his colleagues used to distinguish one anthrax sample from another during the post-9/11 anthrax scare.
"As such, this represents a peace dividend from the war on terrorism," Keim said.
The newly patented system holds potential for commercial production of kits, and NAU is "actively discussing" commercial use with various companies, according to Keim, who also serves as director of the Translational Genomics Research Institute's (T-Gen) Pathogen Genomics Division.