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TECHLAB Develops Diagnostic for Tropical Disease

Vacationers might spend time finding the perfect souvenir to remember a trip. One thing they don’t want to bring home, however, is Montezuma’s Revenge.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, diarrhea is the most common travel-related illness, afflicting 30 to 70 percent of travelers. Unfortunately, there can be many different causes for diarrhea, with varying degrees of seriousness. Bacteria or viruses can make you feel sick within hours, but usually pass after a few days. Those who contract a parasite may not get sick for a week or two, but symptoms can persist for months. Without proper treatment, this kind of diarrhea is dangerous—even deadly.

TECHLAB®,Inc. (“TECHLAB”), a Blacksburg-based medical diagnostics firm, has developed a fast, easy-to-use diagnostic kit to identify Entamoeba histolytica, a protozoan parasite that can be acquired in many tropical and sub-tropical locales.

“Entamoeba histolytica infects an estimated 50 million people worldwide, causes not just diarrhea, but also colitis and liver abscesses, and is responsible for an estimated 100,000 deaths each year,” Tracy WilkinsCharlie Pennington, TECHLAB president, said.

The TECHLAB® E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK™ test is non-invasive and takes only 30 minutes to get results. The E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK™ test recently received the CE Mark for sale outside of the United States; review by the FDA for domestic distribution is pending. The test is quick and easy to read, requires no extra instrumentation, and provides sensitivity comparable to more labor-intensive techniques.

The E. histolytica parasite is difficult to diagnose because it resembles Entamoeba dispar, which does not cause disease. The TECHLAB® E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK™ test (“E. HYSTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK”) is the first rapid antigen test available that differentiates between E. histolytica and E. dispar. Other diagnostic methods that differentiate between the two organisms take hours to get results.

E. histolytica can be treated easily with oral antibiotics, while its look-alike, E. dispar, does not require treatment. Overprescribing antibiotics is dangerous for patients due to potential side effects and growing concerns about antibiotic resistance.

“Our newest diagnostic kit is a novel tool in the worldwide fight against diarrheal diseases,” Pennington said. While parasitic diarrhea is an uncomfortable and inconvenient affliction for adult travelers, it can be fatal for children who live in the developing world. “The diseases that cause diarrhea are preventable, but a few bouts of moderate diarrhea can cause cognitive impairment, growth stunting, and even death for children living in unsanitary conditions,” Pennington said. “We hope E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK can help travelers, but more importantly, we hope it can help improve global health.”

“E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK is an advancement for worldwide healthcare, but it is also an achievement for our local community. The test was developed and is manufactured in the New River Valley. The project has brought jobs and infrastructure improvements to the region,” David Lyerly, TECHLAB vice president of research and development, said.

Joel Herbein, TECHLAB senior research scientist and principal investigator for the E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK project, describes the importance of industrial-academic partnerships in producing medical diagnostics: “The TECHLAB launch of the E. HISTOLYTICA QUIK CHEK is a celebration of regional and international cooperation.” TECHLAB collaborated with William A. Petri, Jr.’s expert E. histolytica research team at the University of Virginia and Rashidul Haque’s clinical study site in Dhaka, Bangladesh, an area where E. histolytica is endemic. “Based on the combined strength of TECHLAB as a profitable manufacturer and a world renowned research group, we were able to secure $4.5M in biodefense initiative small business grants from the National Institutes of Health to help support the project,” Herbein said.

Founded in 1989, TECHLAB® Inc. is a global leader in developing and manufacturing premium diagnostics for diarrheal diseases. TECHLAB research teams focus on enteric diseases and the microbiology of the intestinal tract. TECHLAB offers diagnostic kits for colitis, parasitology, intestinal inflammation, and Shiga toxins. Headquartered in Blacksburg, Virginia, TECHLAB is dedicated to excellence in its diagnostics and research. TECHLAB diagnostic kits are available through its distributor and partner, Alere™, a leading global provider of diagnostic products and health information solutions. Together, TECHLAB and Alere provide high quality, rapid diagnostics for your enteric needs.

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