Mailman School of Public Health researchers develop infectious disease diagnostic tool

February 7, 2005 - Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Genome Center have designed and developed a sensitive new diagnostic technology platform, called "Mass Tag PCR," that can simultaneously screen for multiple infectious agents. The new technology is addressed in a paper published in the February issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Emerging Infectious Diseases. This new platform is demonstrated in an assay that detects and discriminates 22 pathogens including viruses and bacteria that can present as clinically similar pulmonary disease.

This new technology platform addresses important challenges for infectious disease identification-sensitivity and breadth. Mass Tag PCR provides the ability to be precise in identification, as well as the ability to apply current diagnostics to more than one pathogen at a time, thereby reducing the time needed for differential diagnosis.

"We focused first on respiratory diseases because differential diagnosis is a common clinical problem with implications for outbreak control and individual case management," stated W. Ian Lipkin, MD, Jerome L. and Dawn Greene Professor of Epidemiology and professor of Neurology and Pathology at Columbia University, and senior author of the paper. "However, we envision implementing this method for a wide variety of applications such as blood product surveillance, agriculture, forensic microbiology, and biodefense."

To address the need for highly sensitive diagnostics, researchers built on an established method known as polymerase chain reaction that allows amplification of genetic sequences and on a technology previously used for DNA sequencing and detection of genetic polymorphisms. Genetic probes for pathogens were coupled to markers known as mass codes. After amplification, incorporated mass codes were detected by mass spectroscopy allowing identification of the pathogen.


Contact: Stephanie Berger
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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