Despite huge strides in medicine, figuring out what pathogen is causing a patient’s infectious disease remains a challenge. The source of infection is never found in up to 60 percent of pneumonia cases. And even in routine cases of kids coming to the clinic with sore throats and runny noses, doctors are often hazarding a guess of whether the cause is viral or bacterial.
Researchers at the USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery and ARUP Laboratories are taking infectious disease diagnosis in a new direction. With methods that are most widely used today, health care providers must take their best guess as to what’s causing the patient’s illness and then test for it. The problem is, if the test comes up negative, they’re back at square one. A new technology called Taxonomer identifies disease-causing pathogens in an unbiased way.
Sputum is collected from patients and all the DNA and RNA within it is sequenced. From there, Taxonomer takes inventory, sorting sequences into the bacterial, viral, and fungal species they came from and laying them out in an easy to read display. The tool also measures their relative amounts, honing in on the cause of illness. In collaboration with the company IDbyDNA, Taxonomer has become the backbone for a commercially available diagnostic test for respiratory diseases, called Explify ® .
USTAR Center for Genetic Discovery researchers are continuing to develop the innovative methodology for other uses including examining water samples in the field for public health concerns, scrutinizing microbiomes, identifying causes of epidemics in remote locations, and much more.