Enhancing testing for lead in children

Enhancing testing for lead in children

The $1 million Lead Detect Prize seeks advanced point-of-care blood lead tests.

Lead poisoning remains a significant public health issue in the United States, disproportionately impacting children living in communities experiencing disadvantage or poverty. Even low levels of lead in blood are associated with developmental delays, difficulty learning, behavioral issues, and other harmful health effects in children.

There is no safe level of lead in the blood. Because clinical symptoms of lead exposure may be subtle and undetected by a clinical exam, the best way to determine exposure is to collect and test a blood sample at the point of care.

This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the launch of the Lead Detect Prize, a $1 million challenge to enhance testing for lead in children. Phase 1 calls upon researchers and innovators to submit concepts and development plans for advanced point-of-care blood lead tests.

In 2021, CDC issued new guidance for blood lead testing in children, decreasing the blood lead reference value from 5 μg/dL to 3.5 μg/dL. Currently, there is only one commercially available, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared point-of-care test for lead in blood, and it is often unable to provide clear, actionable results at the new, lower reference value. This updated guidance has intensified the urgent need for improved technology to provide more accurate results.

The challenge — designed and administered by Luminary Labs under contract with the NASA Tournament Lab and on behalf of CDC — will advance blood lead test solutions by providing funding and expertise while fostering collaboration and partnership. Phase 1 will award up to five winners an equal share of a $150,000 prize pool. Phase 1 winners will also be exclusively invited to enter Phase 2. Up to three Phase 2 winners will receive a share of a $850,000 prize pool. Phase 1 submissions are due on January 22, 2024.

Learn more about the Lead Detect Prize and register for the December 7 virtual information session.