Device developed in Salt Lake helps identify respiratory pathogens in minutes

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13 2013 7:04 p.m. MST

Rachel Jones with BioFire Diagnostic uses a a respiratory panel for the FilmArray device to diagnose a respiratory pathogen in a matter of minutes. On Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, she said the device is able to detect up to 20 viral or bacterial targets.

Winston Armani, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Body aches, runny noses, coughing. When it comes to diagnosing an illness, time is critical.

A Salt Lake company has developed a machine that's in hospitals across the country that is helping diagnose respiratory pathogens in a matter of minutes instead of days.

BioFire Diagnostics, a Salt Lake City-based company, has a device that can identify different viruses or bacteria in about an hour. The small device, called FilmArray, connects to a laptop. Once a sample is taken from a patient's nose or mouth, it's mixed with various chemicals in the respiratory panel that then identify what's making that person sick.

“It's the system that enables detection of 20 viral or bacterial targets that are typically responsible for upper respiratory infections,” said Rachel Jones, senior vice president of sales and marketing for BioFire Diagnostic.

From various types of flu strains, many viruses and other types of bacteria, the FilmArray prints out a list of what's been detected, or not detected, which helps doctors determine the best course of action.

"A physician can get a result faster, and that means he can start treating the patient faster, or in some cases stop treating the patient,” said Tampa General Hospital Dr. Ray Widen. For example, a doctor may tell a patient to stop taking antibiotics if what is making them sick is a virus.

Before the FilmArray received FDA clearance and hit the market in 2011, determining what was causing someone to be sick took time.

"Before, we would have to send those tests out, and it would take two days to get a result for a PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and now, it takes an hour to run a FilmArray and maybe five minutes of tech time,” explained Ranae Grand-pre, a medical laboratory scientist at Primary Children’s Medical Center.

One of the most common questions that doctors get from patients, and especially from parents with sick children, is "What does my child have?" This device gives that answer and also provides some peace of mind.

“Especially for children, I think for those of us with small kids, when they're sick, even if there isn't a prescription that a doctor can write, you still want to know what's not making them feel so good,” Jones said.

And the FilmArray doesn't take a highly trained specialist to operate. Anyone on staff can learn it quickly. And that's also key for those overnight shifts, when people might bring in their kids; they can be tested and diagnosed immediately.

“Historically, a lot of molecular methods have been very, very complex and have required highly trained technicians in the hospital labs being able to run them,” Jones said. “The FilmArray is really easy. It takes about two minutes to set up and an hour to get the results back. Anyone can do it.”

FilmArray is currently working on a blood culture ID panel, a gastrointestinal panel and a meningitis panel.

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com

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