A Small Company Partnership with Global Impact: Portable, Affordable, and Reliable Anthrax Testing

A Small Company Partnership with Global Impact: Portable, Affordable, and Reliable Anthrax Testing

Anthrax, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracic, poses a significant threat to U.S. national security as demonstrated by the 2001 terrorist attacks that targeted the U.S. Postal Service and Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC.

Sandia National Laboratories developed an anthrax detection sensor for low-resource environments called the Anthrax Detection Cartridge. The portable device, developed from a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project, is inexpensive and requires no power to run and minimal training to operate. It quickly provides highly reliable anthrax detection in controlled environments, rivaling the selectivity of rigorous laboratory analysis.

Winner of a 2014 R&D 100 Award, the Anthrax Detection Cartridge is a self-contained, credit-card sized test system that cultures a sample in a patent-pending amplification chamber using selective growth media. Once a sample is inserted, patent-pending magnetically operated valves advance it from stage to stage to complete the testing process. The device uses a lateral flow assay (LFA) to determine if the sample is dangerous anthrax, and then treats the sample with disinfectant.

Anthrax outbreaks are common in livestock and pose significant risks to animal and public health. Diagnosis currently often requires isolation and analysis of the organism within a laboratory. These resources are often absent or difficult to obtain in rural or poorer areas. With minor modifications, simply swapping out the selective growth medium and LFA strip, the cartridges can be adapted to detect other bacteria, such as salmonella in agricultural settings, as well as bacteria of medical interest.

Aquila, a woman-owned small business based in New Mexico that specializes in the design and manufacture of technologies and services for nuclear security and international safeguards, is licensing the Anthrax Detection Cartridge technology and plans to manufacture the device. Company officials see a potential market among government and commercial customers. Company officials praised the technical support they received from Sandia as well as the smooth and rapid licensing process.

An Umbrella Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between Aquila and Sandia should result in more collaboration on this and other joint projects. Sandia is continuing to refine the technology and adapt it for other markets interested in rapid detection of biological hazards.