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What early detection technologies should be developed to benefit the warfighter?

Discussion Leader: 
Constantine Anagnostopoulos, Ph.D. & Mohammad Faghri, Ph.D.
Posted Date: 11/30/2015

This week's question looks at an article recently published in the HDIAC Journal: Complex Diagnosis Using a New Paper-Based Platform. "There is an overwhelming need to conduct diagnostic tests on soldiers deployed in remote locations where a clinical laboratory is not available. To assess, for example, the extent of head trauma and brain injury; to identify whether an infection is due to dengue or malaria; to determine if illness is caused by a pathogen such as anthrax or other chemical or biological agents; to check for drug use; or to simply assess the soldiers' wellness. Early and timely detection of agents used to cause significant harm is critical to assisting the warfighter." 

Air Force officials are seeking volunteers for future training classes to produce operators of the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)


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I am Prof. Constantine Anagnostopoulos and my co-author is Prof. Mohammad Faghri and we will be leading the discussion. We have been doing research on lab-on-a-chip and lab-on-paper technologies for the last 10 years. We have been funded by NSF and the State of RI and a few other sources to about $3M to date. We have graduated four PhD and 12 MS students so far on these topics and had numerous undergraduates doing research in our lab . Our backgrounds are in engineering not biology or medicine. Therefore the question we would like to ask you is this: In your environment, whether military or civilian, what would be the thing you wish you had a rapid (simple, easy to use, quick, inexpensive) test for? Thank you

Dr. Anagnostopoulos, 

It is interesting that your backgrounds are engineering, but the work you're doing significantly impacts the medical field. There are so many places where a rapid test would be helpful -- detecting medical conditions or diseases, of course, but also detecting chemical agents. This could be extremely beneficial as a wearable sensor/device for a military setting when troops are in unknown situations. 

Dear Ms. Hill, thank you for your comment. The military has identified a gap in the quality of commercially available rapid tests for Dengue Virus infection. Very recently, in collaboration with Dr. Alan Rothman, from the University of Rhode Island,an expert in Dengue Virus, and Dr. Richard Jarman, from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, an expert in Virus Diseases, we submitted a proposal to develop a rapid test using our technology, because of its superior sensitivity. For additional medical conditions or diseases or the detection of chemical agents, we will be happy to collaborate with experts in the specific areas toward the development of rapid tests.

One area of interest would be biological detection. I think both civilian and military would have interest in the detection of viruses, bacteria and other disease. Detection of these agents are important because biologicals usually go undetected until outbreak. The ability of early detection would also lead to improved, targeted research on vaccines/immunizations, which would also increase prevention.

Your comment is quite valid. These are possible applications of our platform. However, further research is needed to develop specific rapid tests. The device we may be developing for the detection of Dengue Virus Infection is indeed planned to be used by Drs. Rothamn and Jarman, in their work for Dengue vaccine development.

I agree that a quick, easy method for biological detection would be useful. Being able to quickly determine if an illness is from a virus or bacteria would be beneficial for treatment in all sectors. Additional information on diseases from tests would also be helpful. What additional information beyond bacteria vs virus could be determined about a disease using your technology? 

Dear Ms. Freiderich, thank you for your question. One major characteristic of our technology is that, with the aide of a smart phone or a hand held reader, quantitative results can be obtained to access the severity of an illness as opposed to a yes or no answer.

Having technologies that provide early detection of brain damage sustained from traumatic events are always sought after by the warfighter. Those affected by traumatic brain injury, whether military or civilian, are at an increased risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder, which has the ability to impact day-to-day functionality. Finding a technology that provides detection immediately after the traumatic experience would be beneficial by having the ability to provide immediate stabilization and surgical treatment, thus reducing the overall damaage and lasting impact.

Thank you for your comment. We believe that this is a great application for our technology. Recently, we were approached by two researchers, Joanna Szmydynger-Chodobska and Adam Chodobski from Brown University Medical School and the RI Hospital, who want to develop a rapid test for concussion. Through their research to date they and their coworkers have identified a panel of 4 biomarkers in blood that determines positively whether a person had suffered a concussion. They reported their findings in a paper titled, "A New Panel of Blood Biomarkers for the Diagnosis of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion in Adults,"
Rongzi Shan, Joanna Szmydynger-Chodobska, Otis U. Warren, Farah Mohammad, Brian J. Zink and Adam Chodobski, to be published in the JOURNAL OF NEUROTRAUMA 32:1–9 (Month XX, 2015)ª Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. DOI: 10.1089/neu.2014.3811. (I could provide a copy of this paper to you or anyone who wants one. Please send me an email at Our plan is to submit a proposal to NIH in April. We have not, however, seen any requests for proposals from the DOD on this topic. We would greatly appreciate it knowing of any forthcoming ones.

The ability to detect and monitor certain deficiencies may also be beneficial to the military. Monitoring of blood sugar levels and vitamin deficiencies would allow the warfighter to monitor their health and take actions if their levels were to get too low. This information can then be used to adjust the food intake of the warfighter to address their individual dietary needs to keep them at optimal health and performance.