The ricin attack this week on President Obama and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., were thwarted by advances in detection technology -- but can similar tech protect ordinary folk from this sort of attack?
Sandia National Laboratories has been quietly working to extend detection tech to the everyday arena in our nation’s defense against bioterrorism.
"We're not just going to wait for the next anthrax letter incident to happen for our devices to be used and tested,” said Sandia's biological science and technology group senior manager Anup Singh.
His team developed a new tech called SpinDx to quickly identify dangerous bioweapons: a portable device that allows first responders, your local doctor’s office and hospitals to quickly run tests for them.
SpinDx is sort of like a lab in an inches-long, 2-pound plastic cube. Combatting both man-made attacks and threats that erupt from nature, it will be able to rapidly identify a range of biothreats including ricin, shiga, botulinum and SEB toxin from just a single drop of blood.
With a four year funding grant of $4 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health), the team will advance this research and take it to the next level.
“We want [SpinDx] to be useful for other things as well, like infectious diseases," Anup said.
How does it work?
SpinDX works sort of like a CD player: It spins a disposable plastic disc containing the test reagents. The discs allow the first responder to test for a wide suite of threats in as little as 15 minutes. Ordinary testing for toxic substances can take days and dollars, and requires highly skilled personnel.
What if terrorists targeted water or food supplies? This very same tech can be used to quickly work out whether food or water has been contaminated with toxins, viruses or bacteria.
Once approved by the Food and Drug Administration and made available to the public, SpinDX could be a key tool in emergency rooms.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.