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Two patents awarded to Miami

Two patents recently awarded to Miami could aid victims of AIDS, cancer and other diseases that suppress the immune system.

J. K. Bhattacharjee (microbiology), received both patents for discovering a quick, inexpensive method for detecting Candida albicans, a fungus potentially lethal to individuals with weakened immune systems.

"With a small amount of blood or kidney tissue from an immunosuppressed patient, we can determine the presence of the Candida fungus," Bhatta-charjee said. "This process is very inexpensive and much less time-consuming compared to the usual biochemical tests and taxonomic identifications."

Bhattacharjee uses the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technique to detect specific DNA present only when Candida albicans has infected a patient. This unique DNA contains lysine biosynthesis genes that can be targeted for PCR diagnosis and serves to identify molecules easily. The lysine gene DNA is detected only if the patient is infected with the fungus. The gene is not naturally present in bacteria, animals or humans.

The entire identification process takes a few hours and is very specific. Current methods of detecting Candida albicans require drawing blood and growing a culture, a process that can waste several precious days, Bhattacharjee said.

"Too often, fungal infections are misdiagnosed and treated with antibiotics, which have no effect on fungi," he said. "By the time the misdiagnosis is discovered, it might be too late to help that patient survive. A fast, accurate diagnosis is the best way to stop a fungal infection from spreading."

Bhattacharjee led a team of postdoctoral researchers that included Vasker Bhattacherjee and Kalavati Suvarna (both now at Yale University) and Richard C. Garrad (now at University of Missouri at Columbia). Paul L. Skatrud and Robert B. Peery, researchers at Eli Lilly and Co., also worked on the project.

"Eli Lilly provided 100 percent of the funds for this research. Without their assistance and the support of Miami University, we would not have received these patents," Bhattacharjee said.

Most of the research has been done at Miami using laboratory cultures of Candida albicans, with research on animals and humans planned for the future. A third patent related to this discovery has received preliminary approval, Bhattacharjee said.

Date Published: 09/30/1999
Volume: 19   Number: 10

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