Biological attacks are rare but they could have deadly consequences. A 1993 report by the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimated that depending on the weather, between 130,000 and 3 million deaths could result from the aerosolized release of 100 kg of anthrax spores upwind of the Washington, DC area, in neither a best nor worst case scenario. This lethality matches or exceeds that of a hydrogen bomb. An economic model developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated cost of $26.2 billion per 100,000 persons exposed. The economic repercussions could be disastrous for any country or government.
All commercial biological detectors available today are either point detectors or lab mobile detectors. Mobile lab detectors usually discriminate and identify agents using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology. The analytical process takes time and only a qualified person can perform the precise manipulations. Point detectors offer a limited range of action and can only discriminate a few agents. A biological cloud passing a few meters away from the point detector will not be detected by it.
SR-BioSpectra is the latest biological detector prototype designed by INO. SR-BioSpectra is a short-range compact spectrometric lidar based on Laser-Induced Fluorescence (LIF) that will address the presence of bio-threats in aerosols over critical indoor, semi-enclosed, and outdoor venues such as subways, universities, public library, stadiums, and airports. This near real-time capability would enable rapid detection of a bioaerosol release and would allow for timely implementation of measures to protect populations and minimize the extent of contamination. This technology has been developed under a CRTI project in partnership with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), Telops, DRDC-Valcartier and DRDC-Suffield. Specifically designed to answer the needs of first responders, SR-BioSpectra has many advantages over currently available sensors. It necessitates no cost per test, contrary to mobile lab that require consumables. Moreover, its effective range is 100 m over 360º and its spectroscopic capabilities allow discriminating the detected bioaerosols according to their dangerousness. Through discrimination, SR-Biospectra can confirm that an impact area is safe for the first responders, therefore allowing a safe and efficient intervention. Among all detectors, SR-BioSpectra is the only one that can cover a large area with a single unit.
INO has been working for over ten years to tackle the problem of detecting biological agents efficiently and precisely. In fact, research began in 1999 on an innovative bioaerosol sensor known as SINBAHD (Standoff INtegrated Bioaerosol Active Hyperspectral Detection). It was completed a few years later for DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada) by INO. SINBAHD is still in use today by DRDC to develop capabilities for detecting, identifying and tracking biological agents. This sensor, based on intensified range-gated spectral detection of Laser-Induced Fluorescence (LIF), has proven sensitive to a few living bioagent particles per liter of air (or ACPLA) for ranges approaching 1.5 km at night.