Local researcher develops life-saving test

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Local researcher develops life-saving test

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Researcher David AuCoin in his laboratory. Photo by Theresa Danna-Douglas for Nevada Today.

Scientists at the University of Nevada School of Medicine are developing a test to diagnose a deadly tropical disease found mainly in Southeast Asia. Their research could help with early treatment.

In his lab at UNR, researcher David AuCoin is demonstrating the product he helped develop to diagnose the infectious disease called melioidosis. It's a test strip that looks similar to a home pregnancy test because it's based on the same technology.

"It's basically, two lines indicate it's a positive test and the bottom line indicates someone is infected with the bacteria, AuCoin says."

That deadly bacteria is found in the water and the warm, wet soil of tropical climates. In just ten minutes, AuCoin's test can detect it with samples of bodily fluid. AuCoin says it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are infected each year and this technology could help save lives.

"They can get a fast diagnosis of infections that can be quite deadly and hopefully they can be put on the proper antibiotics."

The disease causes high fevers and upper respiratory infections. Even when patients are on antibiotics, the mortality rate for melioidosis in Thailand is as high as 40%. AuCoin says that in poverty-stricken areas, the death of one person can take quite a toll on an entire family.

"People who are infected are in rural settings, most commonly it's rice farmers," AuCoin says. "If you think of the family dynamics, for example of a rice farmer in Southeast Asia, it's probably his only source income and maybe his main source of food to support his family."

The test is in clinical trials right now and AuCoin says his main focus is to make it affordable for resource-poor countries.