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ASU BioDesign Institute Working To Improve Valley Fever Diagnosis

Lead student researcher Krupa Navalkar works with samples in the lab.
(Photo by The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University)
Lead student researcher Krupa Navalkar works with samples in the lab.

Dust storms that travel through the valley can carry more than just dust. While many residents are familiar with the fungal infection Valley Fever, diagnosis has not always been accurate. New research aims to change that.

Research at Arizona State University’s BioDesign Institute is working to improve the diagnosis of Valley Fever, caused from inhalation of a fungus sometimes made active by monsoon rain and winds. To diagnose Valley Fever, the current technique of immunodiffusion tests blood samples for antibodies developed against the fungus. However, that process has been known to give false negatives results nearly 70 percent of the time. Dr. Stephen Albert Johnston oversees the research.

“Give them the immunodiffusion assessment which actually takes a fair amount of time to get the data back, and then it says that you don’t have Valley Fever," Johnston said. "But, two months later, you’re still sick, they do the assay, and sure enough its positive. So, all’s assuredly you had Valley Fever back then.” 

A new process being called “immunosignaturing” can map an individual’s entire immune-system activity. This gives greater detail to identify antibodies developed for combating Valley Fever.

“What this allows us to do is basically splay out all those antibodies and see them in high resolution and high sensitivity," Johnston said. "So we just get a much more sensitive and much more informative information out of the same set of antibodies.”  

This new process may provide rapid and cost-effective means of correctly identifying Valley Fever in patients compared to other bacterial or fungal infections. The researchers suggest that increased use of immunosignaturing technology may lead to 100 percent diagnosis accuracy. The next step for the research is collecting local support and funding for commercialization.

Andrew Bernier was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2016.