Magazine article National Defense

Company Creates BioWatch 'Lab in a Box'

Magazine article National Defense

Company Creates BioWatch 'Lab in a Box'

Article excerpt

After six years of development, a technology firm says it has created what has been a holy grail for the Department of Homeland Security's BioWatch program: a laboratory in a box.

PositivelD, a Delray Beach, Fla.-based company said its M-BAND - microfluidic bio-agent autonomous networked detector - has the ability to collect and detect a variety of airborne pathogens and toxins in a self-contained unit and transmit the results to smartphones, or other devices, every three hours.

The current BioWatch program depends on collection devices positioned in almost two dozen cities or at special events. Its filters grab pathogens and toxins from the air. The sample must be gathered on site by technicians and then taken to a laboratory to be examined. The results can take anywhere from 24 to 36 hours.

The long-standing goal for the thirdgeneration BioWatch3 program has been to do all the processing at the site, send the results to a headquarters and, therefore greatly reduce the logistical burden and cost of the program.

Lyle Probst, PositivelD's president, said the M-BAND can deliver results every three hours and therefore greatly reduce the amount of time and money needed compared to BioWatch's previous two generations.

Now that the work is complete, the question is whether the program is going to move forward.

A September 2012 Government Accountability Office report recommended that DHS "articulates a dear approach with a series of measurable steps and initiatives to enhance the nation's biosurveillance capability."

DHS is currently in the process of produdng an analysis of alternatives report on the program, which Probst expected to be completed in February, although its results may not be released to the public.

An amendment in the 2011 Homeland Security authorization bill required that strict criteria be met before any new biodetection system goes forward. The amendment also provided guidelines for improving the functionality of the currently deployed system.

PositivelD received $30 million in funding from DHS' science and technology directorate to develop the system. It was a tough technological challenge, and it took the company six years to reach its goal, Probst said.

"It is a whole lab in a box, essentially," he said.

There are two potentially dangerous classifications of bio-hazards: pathogens and toxins. They require different processes.

Pathogens are living organisms, and toxins are nonliving. …

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