Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Devices Detect Toxins

In a recent article published in the Department of Homeland Security newsletter “R-TECH”, an ocular imaging device is able to detect toxins in the system, if terrorist’s attacks should become more deadly with the use of more chemical and biological agents. The effects of these toxins are not always immediately recognizable and testing can take hours to days to complete.

To make rapid detection possible, EyeMarker Systems, Inc. located in West Virginia developed an ocular imaging device referred to as RTD1000 to detect markers in individuals if they are exposed to certain chemicals and nerve agents. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) SBIR program initially funded the company to develop the technology through the prototype stage.

Dr. Chris Kolanko, Chief Scientific Officer at EyeMarker Systems, reports that the effect of toxins on the body can be seen in various physiological responses within the eyes. When the symptoms for carbon monoxide or cyanide exposure show up, the patient is already in major distress and the device can help detect cases almost pre-symptomatically. Also, it is easy to develop and to keep adding detection software to the device if needed.

Using RTD 1000 could help to relieve strain on the medical system since responders would be able to assess the state of exposure rapidly and treat and reassure patients quickly. Besides being able to quickly assess toxin exposure, the ocular device has other advantages since it is lightweight, portable, and doesn’t require specially trained personnel to use it, works within minutes, and is non-invasive.

Eventually, it is hoped that the scanner can be further developed to detect traumatic brain injury from blast forces at explosion scenes. TBI results in changes to the neurological system and these changes could be detected by examining the dilation and contraction of the pupils to light response. This research is about a year behind the toxin research and is being conducted cooperatively with the Navy Medical Research Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

DARPA has helped the company acquire additional funding from the federal interagency Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) to help get the device ready for commercialization. The Department of Homeland’s Security Science and Technology Directorate’s TechSolutions program has partnered with TSWG to add funding for additional software development and testing. For more information, go to http://www.wyemarkersystems.com/.

On the West coast, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a new rapid, portable, and inexpensive detection system to identify personal exposures to toxic lead and other dangerous heavy metals. The device can provide accurate blood sample measurements from a simple finger prick, which is especially important when sampling children.

A bit larger than a lunchbox, the new detection system is field deployable with plug-and-play features that allow different sensors to detect a variety of heavy metal toxins. The system is battery operated and requires about one and one-half times the power of a typical laptop computer. The system is able to deliver reliable measurements within a rapid 2 to 5 minute analysis period. Early production cost estimates indicate that the device may be as much as 10 times less expensive than plasma mass spectrometry systems.