Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Testing in Arizona

Biotech News

TGen helps test for swine flu in Arizona

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is assisting state and federal authorities in a coordinated effort to prevent a swine flu pandemic. Using state-of-the-art genetic testing systems for identifying the potentially deadly swine influenza virus, scientists at TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division (TGen North) in Flagstaff today began running tests on three of the first four suspected cases in Arizona. A fourth sample from Arizona was tested and found to be positive for swine flu - the state’s only confirmed case - earlier today at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
TGen’s work in producing disease-detecting genotyping tools has potential national and global significance in tracking potential drug-resistant mutations of swine flu, said David Engelthaler, Director of Programs and Operations for TGen North in Flagstaff Arizona.

Techniques honed from post-9/11 FBI anthrax letters investigation; ‘TGen North’ also investigating Valley Fever; viruses and bacteria

“We’ve been working on influenza the last couple of years; developing tools and assays to be able to identify different strains of influenza, to quantify the amounts of virus in different samples, and also to look for anti-viral resistance markers,” said Engelthaler, a former Arizona State Epidemiologist and former Arizona Biodefense Coordinator.

In addition to assisting the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), TGen is working with a pharmaceutical company to help discover ways to track and prevent anti-viral drug resistance. Currently, strains of influenza eventually become resistant to anti-viral drugs, Engelthaler said. “We’ve maintained and developed a really strong relationship with the state Health Department, and we’ve helped them with other disease outbreaks in the past. We have all this cutting-edge technology, so we want to bring that to bear on these public health emergencies,” he said. “All of that is fortuitous because now we can immediately step up and help them, not only with the very specific tools that are needed to identify swine flu, but also by providing them with information about anti-viral resistance and the ability to see how that (swine flu virus) might change,” Engelthaler said.

TGen has worked with ADHS to develop genomic tests for such diseases as Valley Fever - molecular epidemiology - allowing officials to track disease outbreaks and potentially identify their sources.

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