DRDC’s Centre for Security Science funds work on a portable platform for pathogen detection

February 14, 2024


The first step of addressing any sickness is figuring out the cause. Whether its for treatment or to avoid spreading it, diagnoses are necessary for dealing with illness. That’s why Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) is funding work on a new portable diagnostic technology for detecting high-consequence diseases.

A small, square shaped object covered with clear plastic that expose electrical components

A prototype of the diagnostic platform.

The diagnostic platform, currently under development in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the National Research Council of Canada, will be a quick, cost-effective, and highly sensitive means of testing for specific pathogens.

“This device could eventually be used at airports, schools, and hospitals, where diseases are often spread, to test for specific pathogens,” states Dr. Loren Matheson, project director and portfolio manager of chemistry and biology at DRDC’s Centre for Security Science. “Having a platform like this in these environments will be useful to better track and limit the transmission of biological threats.”

The ability to conduct more accurate remote testing may also enhance service to rural populations and underserved communities.

While other detection methods exist, like the ways of testing for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, this test is based on different technology. The new platform will use an assay that’s CRISPR-based, which means it looks for a specific DNA sequence to determine whether or not the pathogen is present. This makes the tool sensitive and specific, producing an accurate result.

The diagnostic tool will also have a plug-and-play utility, meaning it will be relatively easy to adapt to different pathogens, allowing the platform to be used to detect new illnesses of concern in a timely fashion.

“The ability to adapt the platform as situations change is necessary to ensure Canada is prepared to respond to a constantly evolving biological environment,” says Dr. Matheson.

Alongside projects developing new diagnostic tools, Loren’s portfolio at the Centre for Security Science consists of projects that are looking at early warning and surveillance systems, working towards programmable therapeutics, and supporting emergency and operational chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) response, all funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program.

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