BIOTECH FIRM CREATES ONSITE DNA TESTING FOR LEGIONELLA
This story is brought to you in part by Biomass Recycle
By Ronan O'Doherty
A biotechnology company in Ottawa is hoping that their new bacterial detector will prevent a fair amount of unnecessary deaths across North America.
Spartan Biotechnology, which was founded in 2005, released the Spartan Cube, their Legionella detecting device last month and are targeting large property management companies across Canada .
Legionnaires Disease is a form of pneumonia that can be caught when humans are exposed to legionella bacteria through inhalation. Named after the 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia, where an outbreak of it was first identified, the disease can be quite tricky, as it may resemble a common flu.
Found in freshwater, the bacteria are easily spread through the cooling towers or large air conditioning systems of office buildings, schools or hospitals. Those with pre-existing conditions like asthma or chronic bronchitis are highly susceptible to the disease and in five to 10% of cases death can occur.
Despite knowledge of the bacteria dating back forty years, outbreaks are still occurring across Canada and the United States.
Paul Lem, Spartan's CEO, believes that their new testing device might hold the key to stopping them for good.
"We used to use culture testing, which is essentially petri dish testing," Lem, who has a background as an infectious diseases doctor said," However, over the last 10 to 15 years, we've been using DNA testing, which is far faster and way more accurate."
Their new device utilises DNA testing, which has primarily been used for medical purposes, to test the cooling systems of buildings and have results within a 45 minute period.
When asked about what buildings have done up until this point, Lem said, "First of all most buildings don't do any testing and those that do still use bacterial culture."
He pointed out that many cities and municipalities don't have specific rules around testing but problems exist, even for the ones that do.
"In New York City they passed mandatory regulations yet in the last several months, many outbreaks have occurred," he said, "The technology they use is so bad that it doesn't work so well."
Lem compared public attitudes towards legionella being spread by large buildings to what happened with asbestos.
"For the longest time people didn't really think about it and then it became a big deal. When people recognise people are dying and it's totally preventable, that's when people act."
According to Spartan's website, the system is the winner of the 2018 AHR Expo Innovation Award for Indoor Air Quality, which will be awarded in January.