Patent granted for new test to detect valley fever

A patent has been granted for a new testing technology developed by Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) that makes it easier to detect and treat valley fever, a dust-borne fungal disease.

NAU and TGen have exclusively licensed the technology to DxNA LLC, a company based in Utah. DxNA plans to make the valley fever test available to hospitals and clinics after FDA clinical trials and a subsequent FDA 510(k) submission for review and clearance this year.

Valley fever occurs in Phoenix and Tucson, but is also spreading through arid regions of North and South America. It is an infection caused by the microscopic fungus coccidioides, a pathogen that lives in desert soils, entering the body through the lungs. Approximately 150,000 Americans are infected annually and up to 500 may die from it each year.

“Currently, there is no definitive test for valley fever," Paul Keim, director of TGen’s Pathogen Genomics Division, said "Our new rapid, one-hour, genetic-based test will provide physicians and patients with a precise diagnosis, enabling prompt treatment and preventing this disease from becoming more serious,” he said.

“For the past decade, TGen has worked to develop better tools and technology to address valley fever, and we think it is critical to be able to apply our cutting-edge science to problems in our own backyard,” Keim said.

Valley fever typically causes a progressive lung infection, but can also spread to other parts of the body such as the skin, bone, brain and other parts of the nervous system.

Nearly 60 percent of those infected by valley fever, including animals and especially dogs, develop no significant symptoms. Some patients develop cough, fever and fatigue, similar to conditions of other respiratory diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. A severe case can require lifelong treatment with antifungal drugs.

This new genetic-based test can precisely identify strains of valley fever found in the southwestern United States, much of Latin America and parts of California and Washington.

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