CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Researchers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory have developed a powerful sensor that can detect airborne pathogens such as anthrax and smallpox in less than three minutes.
The new device, called PANTHER (for PAthogen Notification for THreatening Environmental Releases), represents a significant advance over any other sensor, said James Harper of Lincoln Lab's Biosensor and Molecular Technologies Group. Current sensors take at least 20 minutes to detect harmful bacteria or viruses in the air, but the PANTHER sensors can do detection and identification in less than three minutes.
The technology has been licensed to Innovative Biosensors Inc. (IBI) of Rockville, Md. In January, IBI began selling a product, BioFlash, that uses the PANTHER technology.
There is a real need to detect a pathogen in less than three minutes, so you have time to take action before it is too late, said Harper, the lead scientist developing the sensor.
The PANTHER sensor uses a cell-based sensor technology known as CANARY (after the birds sent into mines to detect dangerous gases), and can pick up a positive reading with only a few dozen particles per liter of air.
The device could be used in buildings, subways and other public areas, and can currently detect 24 pathogens, including anthrax, plague, smallpox, tularemia and E. coli.
There's really nothing out there that compares with this, said Todd Rider of Lincoln Lab's Biosensor and Molecular Technologies Group, who invented the CANARY sensor technology.
Rider started developing CANARY in 1997 when he realized that there were no sensors available that could rapidly detect pathogens. His idea was to take advantage of nature's own defense system-specifically the B cells that target pathogens in the human body. B cells in the body are very fast and very sensitive, Rider said.
The CANARY concept uses an array of B cells, each specific to a particular bacterium
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology