Rapid DNA test cuts time to detect potentially fatal Legionella bacteria

Testing kit detects extremely low levels and multiple species of Legionella in single test

Dr Kate Reddington and Dr Thomas Barry are the founders of BioProbe Diagnostics which has developed a fast and highly sensitive testing kit for the detection of the bacteria that cause potentially fatal Legionnaire's disease.

Problems with contaminated water are often assumed to be confined to developing countries. In fact, Legionnaire’s poses a potential threat wherever there is natural water or artificial water systems. This can include rivers and lakes and manmade structures such as swimming pools, jacuzzis, ice machines and water coolers. The risk rises where large numbers of people are present, in hospitals and hotels for example.

There are already strict regulations in place around regular water testing in public buildings. The problem is that current testing methods are slow and during this time the risk to public health grows and Legionella bacteria can cause potentially fatal pneumonia.

“In the last number of years, outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease associated with the contamination of water are rising dramatically, and rapid and accurate detection is key to limiting the spread. Furthermore, Covid-19-related lockdowns around the world have resulted in empty buildings and associated reduced water usage. This is providing an ideal breeding ground for Legionella bacteria,” Dr Reddington says.


Reduced testing time

The traditional method of testing for Legionella only detects bacteria capable of growth and takes up to 14 days to get the results. “Our test is a breakthrough in a number of respects not least because the testing time is reduced to two-three hours,” she adds.

“Bio Lp-1 is also the world’s first open platform rapid nucleic acid diagnostics kit that can simultaneously detect and identify extremely low levels and multiple species of Legionella in a single test. Our competitors’ detection systems are based on biochemical and immune-detection methods which lack sensitivity and are not truly quantitative. They also require multiple tests in order to achieve a complete Legionella profile, thereby increasing time, cost and risk.”

Legionnaires’ disease has an associated mortality rate in the general population of about 10 per cent, but this rises to more than 25 per cent when associated with healthcare-related infection, especially in hospital settings where older people and those with pre-existing health conditions are most susceptible. “There is no vaccine against this disease and while it is not possible to control the source of infection, it is possible to drastically reduce the risk of further infection by taking immediate action,” Dr Reddington says.

Both Dr Barry and Dr Reddington are microbiologists and experts in rapid DNA diagnostics. Between them they have more than 30 years of R&D, applied research and technology transfer experience with many patents granted or filed. They set up Galway-based BioProbe Diagnostics in 2017 and the company now employs seven people.

The Bio Lp-1 testing kit is already on trial with potential customers and will be formally launched in the first half of this year with a suite of other products to follow. The company is aiming the kit at the domestic, UK and European markets, and typical customers will include companies operating in the environmental testing, water testing, industrial water testing and food production industries.

“Because Bio Lp-1 has been designed in an open-standards manner, it will work on the leading instrumentation already available on the market. This means that testing laboratories do not need to invest in costly specialised equipment to use our product,” Dr Reddington says.

It has cost roughly €2 million to develop and prepare the Bio Lp-1 test for market and the company has received support from the Enterprise Ireland competitive start fund, the BioExcel accelerator and EU Fast Track to Innovation funding. BioProbe Diagnostics is a HPSU company and is in the process of preparing for a €1 million fundraising round to build its rapid diagnostic testing portfolio which will target further applications in the environmental space.