Major UTEP Grant To Develop Meningitis Test

Apr 11, 2013

Xiujun (James) Li, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been awarded a grant of $419,000 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study and develop a more rapid, low-cost and highly sensitive diagnosis of meningitis.

“We will develop paper-based biochips for low-cost and rapid multiplexed meningitis diagnosis,” said Li, who is also an assistant professor of Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) and materials science and engineering. “It is expected to be as simple as pregnancy test strips.”

Meningitis is a severe bacterial and viral infection of the brain and can become fatal in as early as 24 hours after symptoms are noticed. Current approaches for meningitis diagnosis are either time consuming, or need specialized equipment in laboratories. In addition, many cases of meningitis happen in high-poverty areas, such as rural areas and developing nations – making a low-cost and fast diagnostic method crucial.

Li plans to use a small paper-based ‘lab-on-a-chip’ – a device that integrates multiple laboratory functions onto a tiny microchip – as the new diagnosis method.

“The use of a paper-based micro-system will enable more low-cost, point-of-care testing with potential impacts on affordable diagnostics for developing nations," he said.

Doctoral student Maowei Dou and undergraduate researcher Alejandra Valadez will assist on the project. A technician will also be hired for the project.

Li received a doctoral degree in bioanalytical chemistry from Simon Fraser University. He completed postdoctoral work at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2011, he received a $250,000 UT System Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARS) award to help fund the purchase of state-of-the-art research equipment and needed laboratory renovations at UTEP.