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Travis Schlappi Awarded NIH Grant for Point-of-Care Diagnostic Device Research

CLAREMONT, Calif. – When a patient has a urinary tract infection (UTI), a doctor can prescribe an antibiotic immediately. But choosing the right one involves educated guesswork because it takes two to three days to obtain the test results showing exactly which pathogen is responsible for the ailment.

Travis Schlappi, an assistant professor of medical diagnostics in the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), is seeking to change that timing. He has been working to develop an affordable point-of-care diagnostic device making results available in less than an hour, which would enable a patient to receive the correct antibiotic from the start and be less likely to develop antibiotic resistance.

Schlappi’s new three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will further his research. With this support, he is seeking to develop the capability to detect many different pathogens within a single sample at the same time, rather than just one at a time. Subsequently, he will work on creating a rapid diagnostic device that can both perform this analysis and be manufactured on a large scale.

The NIH grant also incorporates professional development, providing Schlappi with an experienced mentor—in his case, Angelika Niemz, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Professor at KGI and founder of the point-of-care medical device company Efyian. Niemz will offer Schlappi guidance in managing the grant award and setting up his research lab.

“The idea is to get a young faculty member established as an investigator,” says Schlappi, who joined KGI in 2017 soon after earning his PhD from the California Institute of Technology.

“I’m very excited and fortunate to receive this award and looking forward to conducting the research.”

The grant is also beneficial to Tochukwu Anyaduba, PhD’20, who contributed to the successful grant proposal and has been working on the research with Schlappi for more than a year. Anyaduba will conduct the experiments involved in the next phase.

“My interest has always been infectious disease detection and diagnosis. Our hope is that we can have assays and a device to use in resource-poor environments at a reduced cost,” says Anyaduba, who intends to share his knowledge and skills with younger generations of scientists in his home country of Nigeria after completing his PhD at KGI and gaining postdoctoral research experience.

Though the grant supports research to improve the diagnosis of UTIs, Schlappi is also focused on the broader applications of his work.

He explains, “UTIs are a good place to start. They’re a huge problem, with 10 million UTIs per year just in the United States. However, if this proof of principle project is successful, meaning we can detect up to 10 different bacteria in a single sample, we then hope to also apply it to other types of infections—respiratory, diarrheal, blood—which are more significant. Figuring it out for UTIs take us 30 to 50 percent of the way there.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of Biomedical Imaging And Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K01EB027718. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.