IIT Scientists Launch Quest for Better Biohazard Detectors $1 Million Federal Grant Awarded for Development of Handheld Devices

Apr 17, 2003
Press Release

Chicago, IL ---- Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and IIT partner, IITRI Life Sciences, are moving ahead with development of two prototype bioterrorism detectors, providing powerful new tools for U.S. homeland security and military counter-terrorism efforts.

The project is funded by a recently awarded $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to develop easier and faster ways to assess the presence of chemical and biological agents.

In announcing the federal biodefense grant, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) called the new research key to stronger homeland security and the safety of U.S. troops all over the world.

"We live in dangerous times," said Rush. "The threat to human life by chemical and biological agents has never been greater. The efforts of the IIT scientists are an integral part of a crucial strategy designed to help our country more easily and more quickly identify, and protect against these kinds of potential threats. These IIT scientists' efforts are part of a crucial strategy to help our country more easily and more quickly identify these kinds of potential threats."

The ongoing research involves a silicon chip the size of a postage stamp that could provide instant detection of biological or even chemical agents. The chip is a modified version of a fingerprint scanning chip already in commercial production, saving on development costs.

A second handheld device promises identification of particular biohazards, like anthrax and smallpox, based on the DNA signature of different microbes. Thus, it offers specificity of detection and the capability to identify biological agents that have been engineered to escape detection based on antigen recognition. Current testing methods are often time consuming and require analysis in specialized laboratories. A portable device with the capability to detect a variety of agents would be extremely useful for situations that require prompt detection in the field.

"Right now, these sensors are in the early stages of development," said IIT President Lew Collens. "Our research team's goal is to make available as quickly as possible devices that would offer our military and civilians flexibility, portability and safety."

The research, led by IIT's Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering, could lead to devices that would be readily adapted to civilian uses, for mass screening for tuberculosis, HIV, and more mundane infectious diseases, as well as routine diagnostics such as blood typing and screening for genetic diseases and certain cancers. Much of this research will be done at IIT's Biomedical Research and Development Complex, part of a state and privately funded redevelopment project at South Federal and 35th Streets.

Founded in 1890, IIT is a Ph.D.-granting technological university awarding degrees in the sciences, mathematics and engineering, as well as architecture, psychology, design, business and law. IIT's interprofessional, technology-focused curriculum prepares the university's 6,200 students for leadership roles in an increasingly complex and culturally diverse global workplace.