Rapid Tests for Fungal Infections

*Editor’s Note: This is the second installment on Testing for Fungal Infections.

Of the 1.5 million different species of fungi around us, a mere 300 or so are known to make people sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Often caused by fungi that are common in the environment, fungal diseases range from Athlete’s foot to fungal meningitis and bloodstream infections.

Fungal infections prey on weak immune systems, making them widely known as opportunistic infections. People may be born with a weak immune system, have an illness that attacks the immune system such as HIV/AIDS or be on a medication that lowers the body’s ability to fight infections.

The demand for fast, easy-to-use and sensitive diagnostic tests for fungal infections is on the rise. Labs desperately need accelerated detection solutions to isolate and identify fungi quickly.

Developers are working furiously to break out of the historically insensitive and slow processes that were once the standard for diagnosing fungal infections. Ohio-based biotechnology company NanoLogix, Inc. is developing products that incorporate speed and specificity in diagnosing viruses, bacterial infections and fungal infections.

The benefits of rapid testing are obvious, according to Bret T. Barnhizer, CEO of NanoLogix. “If the lab can identify an infection in a couple of hours or overnight, then the patient is treated quicker, thereby reducing harm to that individual patient and the potential spread of infection from one patient to another,” he said.

Fungal infections are of great concern in immunocompromised patients, a population that is steadily increasing in the United States. These infections pose a critical threat to patients in acute care who have a difficult time eradicating the infection. That’s where rapid diagnostic approaches come in: the sooner an infection is identified, the sooner the patient will receive a potentially life-saving treatment.

Recipients of stem cell, bone marrow and solid organ transplants are at high risk for invasive fungal infections as well as those patients hospitalized in intensive care units. The recipients of these procedures are often placed on antifungal prophylaxis to fight off common fungi including the Candida and Aspergillus species. As a result, opportunistic infections due to less common organisms become an issue.

Opportunistic fungal infections, such as invasive aspergillosis (IA), are often the culprits behind high mortality rates in immunocompromised patients. These infections are often difficult to diagnose using invasive, time-consuming and insensitive traditional lab methods.

“We first want to help the patient but also slow or reduce the spread of the fungal infection,” Barnhizer explained. “Rapid diagnostic tests are a significant key to reducing the spread of fungus.”

According to Barnhizer, the rise in Candida and other fungal infections in the last few decades has occurred because some people’s immune systems have been rendered less capable of fighting off infection. “The problem may stem from the increased use of antibiotics over the past several decades,” he said.

Antibiotics are often prescribed in the interim between onset of symptoms and availability of test results. Overuse of antibiotics creates an environment for fungal infections, Barnhizer told ADVANCE.

Detecting Fungal Infections
NanoLogix has developed three types of technology that can detect fungal infections: BioNanoPore sandwiched-membrane petri-based detection technology, BioNanoFilter Ab/Ag tests, and N-Assay multiwell microplate assay.

“Our technology is rapid and hypersensitive, so with our level of detection for fungal infections, viruses, and bacteria, we can detect below the threshold of other technologies,” Barnhizer said.

The company has developed a rapid, accurate and cost-effective solution, using the same principles of traditional Petri culture but at a rate up to 24 times faster. The advanced-culture method detects and identifies micro colonies, allowing technicians to see growth sooner. “The petri-based technology gives a rapid result for fungal infections in as little as 12 to 16 hours, instead of in two to three days,” Barnhizer said.

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