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Utah Scientists Develop New Method to Diagnose Infections

ARUP Laboratories
Robert Schlaberg, Medical Director for ARUP Laboratories, co-developed Taxonomer.

Utah scientists have developed a new way to diagnose infectious diseases that could save lives. It’s a tool called Taxonomer.

It starts with a sample of bodily fluid. Robert Schlaberg is Medical Director for ARUP Laboratories based in Utah. In a paper published in Genome Biology, Shlaberg and partners demonstrated that Taxonomer can detect all existing pathogens in a matter of minutes. In this case, a physician doesn’t even have to decide what to test for.

“You can think of it like a microscope, where you’re not looking for cells under a microscope, but now you’re looking for DNA. And really anything that has DNA or RNA – you can then identify with this tool,” Schlaberg says.  

After a patient’s sample is sequenced, the data are uploaded via the internet to Taxonomer. The tool then displays an inventory of all the viruses, bacteria, and fungi in the sample. Mark Yandell is professor of human genetics at the University of Utah. He led the software development effort, and says the data analysis part of the tool is the game changer.

“That becomes a very, very large compute, one of the largest computes by any kind of standard that the computer scientist would use,” Yandell says. “The fact that we can do this in just generally about five minutes or so, is what is transformative about that.”

Taxonomer is expected to be available in the coming month for diagnostic tests. Schlaberg has also been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for a project aimed at reducing high mortality rates of children with infectious diseases around the world.

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