APR 29, 2016 3:04 PM PDT

Scientists Engineer Palm-Sized Device For Ebola Detection

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Ebola infection and transmission caused a huge international health crisis in 2015 in West Africa, the site of the largest outbreak in history. While the worst of this epidemic seems to have abated, the virus is still present and imposes a threat for future outbreaks. As such, early detection of the virus in humans is still the best mechanism for preventing another global emergency. To this end, scientists have engineered a handheld point-of-care device that can detect the Ebola virus in 37 minutes.
 
Portable device detects Ebola virus in 37 minutes
 The Ebola virus causes severe hemorrhagic fevers, which can often be fatal. In fact, the virus kills up to 90 percent of people who catch it. The natural reservoir for Ebola is still unknown, but humans can get the virus through direct contact with infected blood or body fluids. People infected with Ebola start showing signs and symptoms from 2 to 21 days after exposure. In the beginning stages, symptoms can be non-specific, including fever, muscle pain, headache, and vomiting. Symptoms of hemorrhagic syndrome occur in the advanced stages of infection. There are yet no licensed vaccines or therapies against this virus.
 
Because symptoms of Ebola are non-specific in the beginning, diagnosis of infection is dependent on lab tests that confirm the virus’ presence. Common methods of detection include virus isolation by cell culture, antigen-capture detection tests, or reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay. However, these tests take a long time to deliver results, and the testing often takes place in labs far away from the actual outbreak site. These limitations increase the time it takes to diagnose an Ebola patient, which increases the risks of that patient transmitting the virus to more people.
 
The new detection device overcomes the limitations of the standard Ebola detection tests. This cellphone-sized machine can simultaneously test 2 patient samples against 2 control samples, yielding results in 37 minutes on the spot. In contrast, traditional tests would require blood samples be specially packaged and sent to remote lab sites for testing, with results unavailable until several hours to days after test initiation. The new device does away with dangerous blood collection and packaging, as it requires blood from a finger prick.
 
Resembling a primitive iPod in superficial looks, this device was developed by Pavel Neuzil and colleagues. They published on the device in the journal Analytical Chemistry earlier this month.
 
Because the device detects Ebola RNA through RT-PCR, it can yield information about a patient’s viral load, that is, how many copies of the virus are present in the patient. This information has huge clinical utility, as it allows health professionals to monitor the virus’ progression in the patient during the infection and even after recovery. 
 

Additional source: MNT
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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