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Emerging Infectious Disease Diagnostics: Innovative Solutions to Prevent Pandemics

Global Health Surveillance

Early diagnostics are critical in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. In zoonotic diseases, such…

Early diagnostics are critical in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. In zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, the biosurveillance of animals before the spread to humans can be the difference between a future pandemic or secure containment. 

In addition, the future of high-resolution diagnostics could lead to at-home testing, allowing for more widespread and adequate infectious disease testing. Until these diagnostics are available, our team at MRIGlobal focuses on creating innovative diagnostic solutions to improve the wellbeing of our global population. 

Read on to learn more about how we are developing technologies and high-resolution diagnostics to help prevent future epidemics and pandemics. 

The importance of early zoonotic disease detection

Viruses that cause zoonotic diseases tend to emerge in economically deprived places (such as areas in Asia and Africa), making the spread even more harmful. Without enough resources, those in the area cannot test or diagnose a disease before it begins to spread to the human population. 

One of our main goals of early diagnostics is to catch a virus (or other infectious microorganism) while it’s still spreading from animal to animal. For example, if there are pigs that are showing signs of a disease that are spreading to other pigs, early diagnostic testing can determine if we can create assays, which lead to vaccine development. If those steps could occur before a virus infects a human or at the very early stages of human infection, we could potentially have a vaccine ready to go before a mass spread. 

How zoonotic diseases spread to humans

Without understanding how zoonotic diseases spread, it would be hard to promote early detection. Zoonotic diseases stem from viruses, but can also come from bacteria, parasites, and fungi. That is why it is important to have the capability to test for a disease in the field. 

Our Mercury Lab allows scientists to test for infectious diseases on site without worrying about sending them to a central lab. This greatly reduces the amount of time spent waiting on results and more time determining the next best steps. 

Introducing a New Lab that Transforms Mobility into Portability →

Zoonotic diseases are quite common. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), scientists estimate that 6 out 10 infectious diseases can spread from animal to human. These diseases vary from minor sickness to severe, and even fatal, illnesses. In some cases, a zoonotic disease may be difficult to track in early stages since some animals may carry the disease without showing symptoms. However, even an asymptomatic animal could spread the disease to a human. 

This could happen via:

Direct contact: If you come in contact with saliva, blood, urine, fecal matter, or other bodily fluids from the animal, you could become infected. 

Indirect contact: An infectious microorganism may linger in places with which the animal came in contact. This includes cages, objects, toys, etc. 

Vector-borne: Organisms that feed on blood (i.e. mosquitos or ticks) can carry a disease from an animal to a human. 

Food-borne: Eating meat or consuming dairy from an infected animal could transfer the disease. This mainly happens if you consume raw meat and eggs or drink unpasteurized milk. 

Water-borne: Fluids from infected animals may contaminate water and lead to disease if you drink that water. 

Disease X and emerging infectious disease diagnostics

The World Health Organization (WHO) coined the term “Disease X,” which represents a hypothetical, unknown disease that could lead to a very serious and very dangerous pandemic.

Furthermore, Disease X would be a disease that could kill infants, toddlers, children, young adults, and adults at the same rate as the elderly. In a sense, it would be the “perfect” disease from a scientific standpoint; from a human-centric standpoint, Disease X would be tragic if we are unprepared. 

In past decades, many outbreaks caused by pathogens were familiar to us. In those cases, we may not have a vaccine, but we typically have some type of testing measure and research under our belts. Those are more ideal situations. However, if a novel virus emerges (a virus we have never encountered before), that becomes a problem without diagnostic measures in line. 

While we don’t know where Disease X will come from, how it will spread, or when it will begin, it is still on WHO’s list of diseases that are the top priority for research (which also includes COVID-19). 

In general, the key to prevent the spread of Disease X will be the ability to detect it before it becomes an epidemic or pandemic. MRIGlobal is working on novel detection approaches that will offer early diagnostics. With the continuous development of emerging infectious disease diagnostics, institutions like MRIGlobal can help the countries prepare through enhanced testing capabilities, easier, more widespread testing, and faster assay development. The ultimate goal is to be more prepared to better contain a pathogen through asymptomatic detection and create a vaccine at the earliest stage possible. In other words, we are designing medical countermeasures to fight against Disease X and other infectious diseases.

The future of high-resolution diagnostics

Approximately 60% of diseases go undiagnosed, which can become detrimental to global health surveillance efforts. Now more than ever, there is an increased need for diagnostics that span across the phases of a disease. High-resolution seeks to erase the gaps between what we currently can do and what we need to do for infectious disease prevention. 

Currently, dealing with outbreaks often leads to reactive measures. However, with newer technologies and modalities for assay development, the future may bring proactive measures that will better protect us from a Disease X situation. 

Assays on demand

An assay is a test to measure the presence or quantity of something, such as an antibody or antigen. Assay development is a crucial stage in vaccine production because assays bridge the gap between the ‘why and how’, giving researchers insight to how a particular substance (or antigen) affects the body on a cellular level. These investigative procedures analyze compounds to determine how effective they would be as a vaccine, which can be pivotal in vaccine development. 

The speed in which someone could develop an assay is at the forefront of proactive diagnostics. In previous years, a scientist wouldn’t have the capability to test a microorganism and create an assay on site. Instead, samples would go to a central lab, which not only costs extra money, but also extra time. In remote areas, this can be days to reach a laboratory. Especially in the event of a potential epidemic, time is a crucial. 

Portable labs, such as the Mercury Lab, increase on-site laboratory capabilities, allowing for assays on demand. As a result, these assays enable cost-effective diagnosis that define susceptibility, early infection, and multiple phases of the disease through biomarker measurements (measurable indicators of the severity or presence of a disease such as a fever).  

At-home testing

Without testing, disease containment is nearly impossible. People with no symptoms or even minor symptoms may not feel badly or even realize they have a disease, thus spreading it to others. However, current testing is typically limited and takes time. But what if we could bring testing to your home? With more comprehensive assays and high-resolution diagnostics, in four to five years, at-home testing could be available. This could make it possible to detect people who are asymptomatic and effectively stop a spread. 

Plus, at-home testing can improve numbers. If more people are able to take tests, factors such as susceptibility and fatality rates would be more accurate, allowing us to take steps that would be more beneficial to the population. With more precise details about the pathogen, we are better equipped to fight it. 

The future is all about preparedness. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, not being prepared for an outbreak can cause a massive spread that grows exponentially each day. We do not want to face another situation where we have a pathogen without the resources to control it, especially one with more detrimental effects. MRIGlobal remains at the forefront in advanced diagnostics in hopes of setting a strong foundation to combat infectious disease down the road. 

Learn more about high-resolution diagnostics with MRIGlobal

MRIGlobal is a not-for-profit contract research organization based in Kansas City that specializes in defense, human health, pharmaceutical sciences, in-vitro diagnostics, energy and transportation, agriculture, and global health. Our solution-driven teams are dedicated to finding answers that will make the country and world safer for all. 

For more than 75 years, MRIGlobal has advanced scientific research across a variety of industries, and we focus on supporting better health outcomes on a global scale. For us, it’s not simply about science; it’s about the people who make it all happen. 

We are solution-driven. We find answers, even in the most complex situations. Through our dedication, we can solve virtually any technical problem. 

To learn more about our innovative high resolution diagnostics, contact us at info@mriglobal.org.

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