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Multiplex Point-of-Care Assays to Track Emerging Influenza Strains

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Influenza Transmission Spikes During Social GatheringsWhen and where will the next flu pandemic emerge? Battelle is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop point-of-care (POC) assays to track the spread of emerging strains of influenza.

As part of efforts that began in 2011, life science researchers at Battelle have developed a POC kit to be used for influenza serosurveillance. The multiplex assay gives public health officials on the ground a fast, easy and convenient way to test blood samples for exposure to several strains of flu with a single test.

“Point-of-care assays are needed to give public health officials rapid results in the field without the need of advanced lab equipment or refrigeration,” explains Kim Weber, a Research Scientist on Battelle’s Bioassay team.

Battelle’s Rapid Influenza Immunity Test (RIIT) is a multiplex lateral flow assay that gives results in just 30 minutes with no specialized equipment. It is cost effective to deploy and can be easily transported and stored by public health officials working in developing nations.

The most recent version of the RIIT assay detects biomarkers of immune response to eight different strains of flu, including H1, H3, H5, H7 and H9 strains. The 8-plex assay builds on previous 5-plex and 10-plex versions, with strains selected to meet the CDC’s current needs for flu biosurveillance.

A previous version of the assay has already been used to monitor serum levels of flu antigens in poultry workers in Bangladesh, a potential “hot spot” for emergence of an avian flu epidemic.

Monitoring immune response to influenza at the population level allows CDC and their international partners to identify new strains with epidemic or pandemic potential and put countermeasures in place to slow or stop their spread.

The rapid mutation of the flu virus makes assay development challenging. Immunity to common seasonal variants of flu can cause false positives for the strains under surveillance, potentially masking the emergence of dangerous new strains. Battelle researchers developed a process to remove antibodies for seasonal flu variants prior to testing to avoid interference and minimize false positives. They also worked on methods to stabilize the assay for field deployment.

Battelle plans to continue to develop new multiplex assays to support influenza surveillance. Continued development will be needed to adapt the assay to detect new and emerging strains of flu as they evolve. Researchers are also developing a companion high-throughput version of the assay for use in the lab.

Battelle is an official sponsor of Global Biodefense.

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