Mayo announces rapid anthrax test, ships to U.S. labs

by Mike Zacharias

A new test capable of detecting anthrax in 30 minutes will be sent to some U.S. laboratories, Mayo Clinic officials announced Monday.

The DNA test, developed by Mayo researchers and Switzerland-based pharmaceutical company Roche Diagnostics Corp., can test for anthrax in humans and the environment.

“Until now, local labs have been able to quickly determine the presence of a bacterium, but they can’t tell whether it is anthrax or not,” said Franklin R. Cockerill, who headed the project at Mayo. “The events of the last several weeks require as rapid a response as possible.”

Cockerill said the test is “extremely accurate” in laboratories using blood samples.

Quicker diagnoses can play a major role in fighting inhalation anthrax – the most dangerous form of the disease. It starts with flu-like symptoms and can turn fatal in 48 to 72 hours. Survival depends on starting proper medication immediately.

It is unclear whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will adopt the test, which has yet to be tested on a human subject.

Michael Osterholm, director for the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said it’s important to develop a faster test. He couldn’t comment specifically on the Mayo test “simply because we don’t yet know enough about it.”

“There is a critical need for faster diagnostic testing for anthrax and we are encouraged to see these types of tests being developed,” Osterholm said. “We will be anxious to see some additional results from Mayo.”

Currently, the most widely used test for the presence of anthrax involves inserting a swab deep into the nose. It can take several days to get results.

The new test’s technology uses four DNA probes to identify the presence of anthrax instead of a single probe, which is common, Cockerill said.

Ten of the 17 cases of anthrax in the United States are of the inhalation form, including all four deaths.


– The Associated Press and wire services contributed
to this report.

Mike Zacharias welcomes comments at [email protected]