Developing digital droplet PCR for pathogen testing of suspected meningitis for LMI settings

Bacterial Meningitis is a devastating brain infection which still results in high rates of disability and death across the globe. A key road-block to improved outcome for meningitis patients, especially in lower-middle income (LMI) settings, is a lack of accurate and accessible diagnostic tools. 

Our established Transcripts to Identify Meningitis (TRIM) study is validating our novel host-transcript based blood test to distinguish bacterial meningitis from clinical mimics among adults admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis in the UK and Europe (test developed in University of Liverpool; study funded by MRC DPFS). 

Blink-DX have developed novel digital droplet PCR instrumentation. Their low-cost portable instruments offer to accurately quantify the abundance of multiple different nucleic-acid sequences (DNA or RNA) using a small volume of blood (<100µl). 

During the project we will undertake proof of concept and development work to evaluate use of our TRIM assay and pathogen specific PCR targeted for meningitis on their instruments. We also aim to co-refine the blood and CSF collection system and pre-processing (RNA extraction and reverse-transcription) module for optimal use in LMI settings. 

This collaboration will enable our TRIM test assay and pathogen specific PCR assays to be paired with sample collection and measurement systems tailored for use in LMI settings. 

This alternative measurement system for our TRIM test assay will complement our planned evaluation of TRIM assay accuracy in LMI populations (using standard PCR thermocyclers) as part of our costed extension of our MRC-DPFS award. 

The evaluation of pathogen specific testing using BLINK-DX instruments will complement our ongoing introduction of diagnostic tests in Indonesian hospitals (MRC supplement  and HEIF funding secured).

Photos of collaborative visit to Blink-DX, Jena, Germany, where Lorna and Dr Griffiths were given hands on exposure the BLINK-DX (top-left) and Blink-One point-of-care  (bottom left) prototype devices by Eugene Ermantraut (CEO) and Hartmutt Bocker (chief scientist).