In developing countries, infectious diseases result in millions of deaths each year that could be diminished with effective diagnostic techniques. Approximately nine million people carry active tuberculosis infections and nearly two million die because of it. It is estimated that 25 percent of these deaths are preventable with the proper tools.
Dr. Shana Kelley, a researcher with the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, is intent on developing low-cost diagnostic technologies to be used in developing countries. Kelley has developed a chip-based sensor that can detect trace quantities of DNA, RNA and protein analytes in samples, and that has already been applied for early diagnosis of cancer.
Dr. Kelley is further developing this technology for tuberculosis detection. This involves the development of new nanomaterials that will enable sensitive sensors to detect minuscule traces of the deadly tuberculosis pathogen. The current tools used for diagnosis in the parts of the world most affected by tuberculosis and similar diseases require relatively large samples and are too slow to provide the level of control needed to reign in the spread of infection.
In a country such as Ethiopia, hospitals and laboratories can be days away from remote towns and villages, and the diagnostic resources can be slow and limited. In light of this, Dr. Kelley’s research also involves the advancement of a rapid testing system that can be used on-site in remote areas. It must also be low-cost, so it can be widely implemented in communities that cannot afford hi-tech resources.
Dr. Kelley’s chip-based sensor has already been demonstrated as an effective tool for clinical use and will introduce a new diagnostic resource for hospitals around the world. More importantly however, her research will deliver a new level of medical diagnosis to regions of the world most in need and, potentially, save millions of lives.