Nanosynth Begins TB Feasibility Studies in Africa and Asia

Jason Young of Nanosynth showing test results to Samir Pachpute of the MGM Institute of Health Sciences in Mumbai, India

Nanosynth Begins TB Feasibility Studies in Africa and Asia

Although tuberculosis (TB) is now a relatively uncommon disease in North America and Europe, it still poses a major threat to many countries around the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2014 alone, 9.6 million people fell ill with this disease and over 1.5 million died from it.[1] Effective and inexpensive drugs exist for most strains of TB but because it is usually slow in its progression and difficult to diagnose, it often goes undiagnosed, and thus untreated, in patients for many years. Coupled with the fact that it is highly contagious, the spread of TB can be difficult to control.

Medical directors of various clinics around Mumbai, India meeting with Jason Young

Public health officials have known for decades that accurate diagnosis of TB is crucial for controlling its spread. Current diagnostic standards, however, can take weeks to confirm a clinical diagnosis, require highly skilled personnel and expensive specialized laboratory infrastructure, and suffer from either missing too many actual cases of the disease (false negatives) or identify too many people as having it when they really don’t (false positives). Each of these limitations waste precious resources and allow the disease to spread. This often means that the areas that need proper diagnosis techniques the most go without them.

Realizing this, Swomitra Mohanty, assistant professor of chemical engineering, worked with Manoranjan Misra, professor of metallurgical engineering, to develop a technology that uses titanium dioxide nanotubes to detect TB. A nanotube is a hollow tube on the nanoscale (a scale operating at less than the width of a human hair) that can be made from a variety of materials. Misra and Mohanty were aware that active TB infections in the lungs give off four particular volatile biomarkers (chemical compounds that are a byproduct of the bacteria metabolism). They then realized that they could effectively measure the presence of these biomarkers by having an individual with TB breathe over an array of these nanotubes. As the infected individual’s air passes through the array, the biomarkers bind to the nanotubes, resulting in a detectable electrical current that can be read by handheld electronic devices. This approach, which is very different from the current standard, enables the screening of patients for active TB on site.

The initial technology has been greatly refined since it was disclosed to TVC in 2011. It is now a robust, working prototype being commercialized by U-spinout Nanosynth Materials and Sensors. Individuals suspected to have TB only need to breathe one or two times into the device, compared to the standard method, which requires collecting a patient’s sputum (a relatively difficult sample to collect, especially from children). Within 10 minutes the device will have an initial result as to whether or not the individual is suspected to have TB. If the result is positive, Nanosynth will recommend that that individual undergo confirmatory testing to establish the diagnosis and treatment if the patient is found to have TB.

Colorized x-ray of a TB patient’s lungs

Jason Young, CEO of Nanosynth, hopes to price the test in a similar range to that of a sputum microscopy or other screening tests. But because Nanosynth’s test can be done on-site, has results ready in a fraction of the time compared to current standards, requires minimal training to run, and doesn’t require a patient to cough up sputum, Young believes that adoption will be widespread.

Currently, Nanosynth is performing feasibility studies in India and Uganda. The first goal of these studies is to test how many false negatives and false positives the test produces. They are working towards a sensitivity of 90 percent for active pulmonary TB, which is significantly higher than current sputum microscopy tests. The second goal is to get usability feedback from both the operators of the device in India and Uganda as well as from the individuals it is being tested on. If the results of the feasibility study are positive, the company will begin raising funds for further development and clinical testing.

Return to Report Home Next Article: ARUP Emerges as a Commercialization Leader at the U

[3] “Tuberculosis,” World Health Organization, March 2016, accessed August 5, 2016,