05-029: Rapid Indicator of Anthrax Infections

George Mason University researchers have discovered a low cost, rapid, early indicator of the presence of Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax infections.


Early symptoms of an anthrax infection are often indistinguishable from a common flu, and if undetected and untreated anthrax infection can have mortality rates nearing 100%.

Even where the presence of anthrax is suspected, the current diagnostic of growing, isolating, and identifYing a culture of the bacteria can take several days, and the timing of proper treatment for an anthrax infection is important to patient survival. More rapid tests are becoming available, but may only detect the bacteria days after infection, and may require expensive equipment and particular expertise that many hospital labs, and certainly labs serving first responders, may not possess. There is a clear need for this test, which allows the rapid and easy detection of a Bacillus anthracis indicator which presents less than a day after initial infection.


George Mason University researchers discovered high levels of a soluble protein in the blood of anthrax infected animals. The protein, syndecan, is shed from the surface of host cells during infection. Syndecan levels begin spiking hours after initial infection, remain higher than normal for days afterward before slowly leveling off (see reverse), and might be used to track progression of the infection. Soluble syndecan can be detected and quantified using common immunoassay methods.

Market Significance:

The development of diagnostics, prophylactics, and treatments for anthrax infection is one of the top priorities of U.S. biodefense initiatives. Although the need for frequent anthrax testing in the civilian population is thankfully low, hospitals would certainly want to keep such a test on hand and the military may wish to test personell in high risk areas more regularly. The test can indicate other types of bacterial infection and lends itself to incorporation into a kit or suite of common immunological blood tests. Lastly, a large and steady market may be found in veterinary applications.


- Faster detection of an indicator of infection than currently available tests
- More rapidly alerts authorities to an anthrax outbreak
- May be applied to other infections caused by gram-positive bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria monocytogenes
- Quantifies the level of a potential therapeutic target