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Contact: Shawn Le
sle@coh.org
800-888-5323
Public Library of Science

Researchers develop new ultrasensitive assay to detect most poisonous substance known

City of Hope and California Department of Public Health collaborate on discovery

DUARTE, Calif. -- Scientists at City of Hope and the California Department of Public Health have developed a new ultrasensitive assay to detect botulinum neurotoxin. The toxin is one of the most poisonous substances known that can cause life-threatening disease, and is considered a major potential bioterrorism threat agent. The research team’s work is published today in the online journal PLoS ONE (http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0002041).

Botulinum neurotoxin is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. When ingested, the toxin disables nerve function and can result in paralysis and even death. Botulism normally results when a person eats food tainted with C. botulinum bacteria or if a wound is infected by the bacterium. Infants, whose digestive systems are not yet fully developed, also are susceptible to the disease if the bacterium gains a foothold in their intestinal tract. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify botulinum neurotoxin as one of six “maximum threat” bioterrorism agents due to its potency, lethality and ease of production and transport. One gram of botulinum toxin could kill more than 1 million people, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The new test is at least ten thousand times more sensitive and produces results much faster than the current detection method for botulinum neurotoxin,” said Markus Kalkum, Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Immunology, City of Hope, and lead researcher in the study. “Wide use of the new assay would improve food safety and food processing technology, speed up and improve the diagnosis and treatment of human disease, advance the development of novel therapeutics, and greatly enhance the country’s ability to detect and defend against a bioterrorism attack.”

The collaborative research team developed a test that is less expensive, faster and easier to perform than current testing options. They achieved this through the use of microscopic beads and special photochemicals that glow under ultraviolet light to achieve a heightened level of sensitivity. The microscopic beads are coated with antibodies to the botulinum neurotoxin and then mixed with the liquefied sample to be tested. The antibodies latch on to any botulinum neurotoxin molecules present in the solution and are then used to convert a special chemical into a fluorescent dye that glows in the dark when illuminated with blue or ultraviolet light. The new assay works well in liquid foods such as milk and carrot juice, and in blood serum.

The testing method has possible application in diagnosing other diseases. Researchers are investigating the potential use of antibodies for different diseases to expand the scope of the test.

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Authors of the study include Kalkum; Karine Bagramyan, Ph.D., research fellow, Division of Immunology, City of Hope; and Jason Barash, C.L.S., M.T. (ASCP), and Stephen Arnon, M.D., both from the Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program, California Department of Public Health.

Funding to develop the new assay was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through its biodefense network partner the Pacific South West Regional Center of Excellence.

About City of Hope

City of Hope is a leading research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest honor bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, and a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, City of Hope's research and treatment protocols advance care throughout the nation. City of Hope is located in Duarte, Calif., just northeast of Los Angeles, and is ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” in cancer and urology by U.S.News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation and genetics. For more information, visit www.cityofhope.org.

CONTACT
Shawn Le
Phone: 800-888-5323
sle@coh.org

Citation: Bagramyan K, Barash JR, Arnon SS, Kalkum M (2008) Attomolar Detection of Botulinum Toxin Type A in Complex Biological Matrices. PLoS ONE 3(4): e2041. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002041

PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT: http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0002041


Disclaimer

This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS ONE. The release has been provided by the article authors and/or their institutions. Any opinions expressed in this are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.



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