Mayo scientists develop faster anthrax test

War On Terrorism : Anthrax Scare

November 06, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The newest weapon in the war against bioterrorism - a rapid DNA test for anthrax in human and environmental samples - was announced yesterday by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Current anthrax testing is a multistep process that takes several days to complete. The new Mayo DNA testing procedure cuts the wait to about an hour, officials say.

Later this week, Switzerland-based Roche Diagnostics Corp. will send about 100 test kits to two dozen labs around the country equipped with a LightCycler, a Roche instrument that is about the size of a standard coffee maker and is needed to conduct the test.

Sometime early in December, test kits will be sent to other public health agency, hospital and reference laboratories in the United States and around the world, company officials said.

Not only is the Mayo test much faster than current tests, but wide dispersal of the technology also will eliminate the time it takes to send samples to far-off labs for analysis, health experts say.

"The first thing people want to know in a case of suspected anthrax exposure is whether the agent was in fact anthrax," said Dr. Franklin Cockerill, a Mayo Clinic microbiologist who led the team that developed the test.

The initial test kits will be free, said Juergen Flach, vice president and general manager of Roche Molecular Biochemicals. Once the test receives federal approval, which is expected later this year, the company will charge about the same price as other widely used tests, such as the HIV test, which costs about $50 to $60, he said.

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