St. George’s University and Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, have partnered with Tetracore to build capacity towards diagnostics and surveillance for Zika virus and other vector-borne infections in Grenada.
On May 9, Dr. William Nelson, President and CEO of Tetracore, donated a Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) thermocycler device, the Illuminex, in response to WINDREF’s expressed need not only for improved capabilities for diagnostics and clinical management but also for outbreak investigation and research of Zika virus, as well as Chikungunya and Dengue viruses, which also affect the island.
While in Grenada, Dr. Nelson met with healthcare staff at the General Hospital, the Ministry of Health, faculty and researchers at SGU and WINDREF, and other health centers to provide training on the use of Illuminex and to assess some of the suspected cases of Zika virus found on island.
“The Illuminex device is very efficient in terms of its diagnostic capabilities, which circumvents the need for Grenada to access regional and international laboratory capacity,” said Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, Chair of the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at SGU. “Now we have the opportunity here at SGU and WINDREF to effectively and efficiently have a very short turn around time for diagnosis and clinical intervention in Grenada.”
The RT-PCR technology identifies multiple genetic markers for Zika, which allows for the testing to be highly specific and of applicable diagnostic potential. Illuminex is capable of processing six samples simultaneously, including blood as well as urine, which is less invasive and easier for clinical management. Through the use of a battery/chargeable power source, the device is portable and has been able to be tested across the government diagnostic laboratories and community health centers.
With Zika already present in the western hemisphere and the surrounding Caribbean islands, it may pose a threat to Grenada as well. The imminent rainy season results in increased ground water collection, and in turn, more opportunities for mosquitoes to breed. The rise in population of the vector can lead to a heightened mode of transmission and ultimately an increase in the number of cases of Zika.
“The extent of the number of persons infected with Zika virus will be determined by the public health approaches that have been implemented,” explained Dr. Bidaisee. “In terms of education, source reduction, and vector control, these measures have already been put in place and can possibly have a reduced burden towards any outbreak, as opposed to Chikungunya which had an exponential effect on the population.”
“Zika presents one of the most challenging threats of the emerging arboviruses in the tropics. In partnership with the Ministry of Health and now Tetracore, we hope to mitigate its impact in Grenada,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, Director of Research, St. George’s University. “Having this Illuminex device provides all the parties involved with access to real-time data that will give insight to what’s working in terms of control and response to the threat posed by Zika virus to Grenada.”
Tetracore is a biotechnology research and development organization that develops highly innovative diagnostic reagents and assays for infectious diseases and biological warfare (BW) threat agents. Tetracore offers a broad range of highly-specific, rapid, antibody-based test kits and antibody reagents for the detection of BW infectious agents and toxins, including the first FDA cleared test kit for identification of B. anthracis from colonies. The four founding scientists, Gary Long, Ph. D., Beverly L. Mangold, Ph.D.*, Thomas W. O’Brien, Ph.D., and William M. Nelson, M.D. (CDR, US Navy Ret.), have been leaders in the development of state-of-the-art diagnostic technology for use by the Joint Program Office for Bio-defense (JPO), the Department of Defense (DOD), FBI, and DOE.
By Ray-Donna Peters