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Jul 29, 2014 06:35 AM EDT

Exeter Researcher Develops Device to Detect Fatal Lung Disease

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Professor Chris Thornton, a University of Exeter researcher, has developed an inexpensive and accurate device for diagnosing a deadly lung disease that frequently attacks immune deficient individuals like cancer and bone marrow transplant patients.

The lateral-flow device (LFD) detects pulmonary aspergillosis caused by the fungus Aspergillus. Invasive aspergillosis is the leading cause of death in acute leukaemia and bone marrow transplant patients. Every year, the fungal disease causes over 200,000 life-threatening infections with a 90 percent associated mortality rate.

The new device that strikes a resemblance with a pregnancy test uses a small blood sample and a specific monoclonal antibody to detect a diagnostic marker of active Aspergillus infection. As a result, the doctors can accurately identify patients developing the disease. The disease is otherwise notoriously difficult to diagnose.

Thornton believes that LFD will lower mortality and morbidity rates associated with the disease and enable better use of costly and toxic antifungal drugs.

"Individuals with invasive pulmonary aspergillosis are often suffering from complex medical conditions and the symptoms, which include raised temperature, breathlessness, chest pain and fatigue, could be attributable to a number of other conditions. At present, it can take several days to identify the disease correctly due to the lack of accurate diagnostic tests, and the patient's health deteriorates significantly in the absence of appropriate treatment," Thornton said in a press release.

"The low cost, speed, ease-of-use and compatibility of the new device with standard hospital procedures means that the disease can be quickly and accurately monitored at the point-of-care using a simple blood test or with fluids collected during lung biopsy."

The lateral flow device will begin its commercial application in hospitals worldwide from August. 

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