3 Researchers Win Awards to Improve Diagnostic Tests for Cystic Fibrosis, Other Diseases

Three researchers at Case Western Reserve University were recently awarded funding to develop new technologies for cystic fibrosis, malaria, and sickle cell anemia.

The funds were granted by the National Center for Accelerated Innovation, established by Case Western and others to support and advance the development of products and technologies linked to goals set by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Miklos Gratzl, a biomedical engineering associate professor, Dr. Umut Gurkan, a mechanical and aerospace engineering assistant professor, and Dr. Brian T. Grimberg, an international health assistant professor were the three recipients.

Dr. Gratzl and his research team are working to develop and clinically test a new device to diagnose cystic fibrosis in babies at two weeks of age. The team will also compare the new technology to the currently available tests, which can only be performed in infants older than three months.

“Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that leads to the secretion of abnormally thick mucus,” said Dr. Gratzl in a press release. “This causes obstructions in the airways and recurring pneumonia. If treatment begins after the presentation of symptoms, which typically occurs about three months of age or later, irreversible damage has already occurred. Our diagnostic technology will make it possible to begin treatment shortly after birth.”

Presently, the test commonly used to diagnose cystic fibrosis measures the levels of chloride in an infant’s sweat, sufficient volumes of which are only produced in babies older than three months. The new technology being developed by Dr. Gratzl would need only two microliters of sweat to make a diagnosis possible, which can be collected from babies at two weeks of age.

Dr. Gurkan and his team will evaluate in Ghana a new test to diagnosis sickle cell disease, and Dr. Grimberg and his team aim to improve the sensitivity and portability of a device to diagnose malaria through high-sensitivity magneto-optical detection of the malaria pigment in blood.

Other institutions instrumental in establishing the National Center for Accelerated Innovation are the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Ohio State University, and the Cleveland Clinic. The prize amounts were not announced.

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