News Trends Analysis

Dec. 14, 2014

Infectious Disease

Facility constructed in Liberia to treat infected medical workers. The Monrovia Medical Unit (MMU), an Ebola treatment unit constructed specifically for the treatment of medical workers who were infected while caring for Ebola patients, opened last month about 30 miles outside Monrovia, Liberia. 

The 25-bed facility was constructed by a team of U.S. Navy seabees, soldiers and airmen from Joint Forces Command-United Assistance, and is being operated by personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service. The compound is separated into two parts: one side is the low-risk zone for medical workers and support staff; the other is the high-risk zone for suspected and infected patients. 

The structure consists of 12 tents, four that make up an administrative area and eight that make up three wards for patients and other necessary services. The administrative tents are the site of behind-the-scenes work—the ordering of personal protective gear, scheduling, processing of paperwork, eating meals. The high-risk zone is where the patients reside and receive treatment. The two halves do not connect in any way.

Of the three patient wards, the most acute ward is for the patients who have Ebola. One of the other wards is for patients suspected of having Ebola, and the other is a flex ward that is used as needed. Patients are cared for in the suspected ward while they wait for their blood tests to come back from the onsite laboratory. 

Along with the laboratory, there is a pharmacy, behavioral health section, and patient reception area on the grounds. The reception area is outdoors. Patients speak to their friends and family members through a windowless structure that is six feet away from a similar structure on the other side of the compound’s fence. Studies have shown that when Ebola is emitted from a patient due to a sneeze or spittle from a cough, it dies before traveling approximately a meter.

The entire fenced-in compound is nearly self-contained, needing only resupply of water, fuel, and food. Fuel supplies two large generators that power the electricity and one small generator that powers the perimeter lighting. The water is for cleaning and decontaminating personnel and equipment. There’s also an incinerator on site to dispose of used personal protective equipment.


Researchers share new insights about anemia and fatigue in cancer patients. Many patients with cancer experience low blood counts, which causes weakness and fatigue. Researchers in Sweden, China, and the UK have discovered how a tumor affects a patient’s blood count and bone marrow characteristics. The study has been published online in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

Anemia is sometimes caused by patients taking cytostatic drugs, which also kill healthy cells including red blood cells. But cancer in itself also affects the blood count, and there is a lack of knowledge about the causes of this phenomenon. Researchers have now succeeded in mapping out an important mechanism which explains how a tumor manages to affect a person’s blood count and bone marrow characteristics.

The key components in this context are VEGF, a protein, and VEGF-2, a receptor. VEGF, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, a signal protein produced by the tumor, plays a key role in angiogenesis, i.e., the formation of new blood vessels. An existing treatment method for cancer is to cut off the tumor’s VEGF production, thereby preventing it from forming new blood vessels. But there is still a large gap in the knowledge about VEGF and its significance for cancer.

Industry News

Industry activity increases around rapid Ebola diagnostics. In the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency approval in late October of BioFire Defense’s PCR technology-based FilmArray system to diagnose Ebola in U.S. military labs and hospitals, other companies are developing diagnostics for use in the U.S. or abroad. An article recently published in The Wall Street Journal summarized some recent developments:

Corgenix Medical Corp., working with Tulane University and the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium, is working on a portable Ebola test kit, using lateral-flow technology, which is designed to deliver a result from a drop of blood within approximately ten minutes. The device is being tested in West Africa, but not enough data has been collected yet for the company to seek approval from the FDA, the World Health Organization (WHO), or the national health ministries of the African nations.

Chembio Diagnostics Systems, Inc., and Integrated BioTherapeutics, Inc., have joined forces to produce a point-of-care Ebola test. Reagents developed by Integrated BioTherapeutics will be used for the assay, which the companies hope to begin testing in Africa within months.

Genalyte is developing a diagnostic for Ebola that uses a silicon chip to test a drop of blood and deliver results within about ten minutes. It could be used for triage, screening of travelers from West Africa, or monitoring of quarantined individuals.

OraSure Technologies is exploring the possibility of a rapid oral test for Ebola.

Lab of the Year

Nominate your lab to be the 2015 “Lab of the Year.” Medical Laboratory Observer is gearing up to honor three outstanding clinical laboratories. A first-prize winner and two runners-up will be selected and saluted in the April 2015 issue. Online nominations are being accepted through January 26. Any nomination must be original and exclusive to MLO and not have been submitted, either original or edited, to any other publication or online media outlet currently or within the previous year.

What are the “requirements” to be a Lab of the Year nominee? Clinical labs of any size and location are eligible for consideration. Most broadly, you will want to demonstrate your lab’s contributions to quality patient care. Beyond that, consider the categories under which you are asked to describe your lab in the online nominating form ( customer service, contributions to patient care, teamwork, productivity, efficiency, quality control, innovations, creativity, and lab inspection scores. Emphasize what is particularly successful about your lab, in terms of engaging with and responding to the needs of your community, contributing to the success of the larger institution, meeting an unaddressed need, making a difference in people’s lives. What is it that makes your lab outstanding? What is it that makes your lab special?

The MLO team looks forward to reading about some exemplary and inspiring labs—and celebrating in print how three of them are having a positive impact on the profession and on patient care in their communities.