Ebola is one of the deadliest virus across the globe. However, some researchers have developed a way to curb the spread of the virus. The researchers can transform how Ebola is identified, letting doctors diagnose the disease in the field instead of sending samples to labs. That could speed containment of the virus in West Africa, which has seen one of the decade’s worst disease epidemics because of the difficulty in diagnosing Ebola.
The researchers rely on two chips which are; a microfluidic chip, used to deposit and prepare the sample, and an optofluidic chip, which can detect individual molecules containing the virus. Preliminary tests show the method to be as effective as a conventional lab test, according to a Scientific Report.
Ebola has killed more than 10,000 people and new cases are still being reported in West Africa. Technically, the disease is hard to stop; symptoms often don’t appear for many days, and it can take even longer for diagnostic tests to confirm the virus.
“Diagnostic capacity is especially important, as the early symptoms of Ebola virus disease mimic those of many other diseases commonly seen in this region, including malaria, typhoid fever, and Lassa fever,” the World Health Organisation said.
Doctors relied on a test known as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to diagnose the virus, which essentially involves virus samples being sent to a lab so genetic material can be studied. It’s a complicated process because the method relies on examining DNA molecules. Unfortunately, the Ebola virus is not made up of DNA, but of RNA. While RNA is similar, it has a different structure and serves another purpose in the body. DNA copies of the RNA must be made before testing can begin.
“Compared to our system, PCR detection is more complex and requires a laboratory setting,”the paper’s author said, Holger Schmidt, a professor of optoelectronics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We’re detecting the nucleic acids directly, and we achieve a comparable limit of detection to PCR.”
The new system is user-friendly technology for point-of-use diagnosis, especially in resource-limited settings, the researchers wrote in the paper. The system involves examining single molecules one at a time as they pass through a tiny, fluid-filled channel on a chip.
Tests have been carried out on a number of viral samples. The team hopes to do more tests on raw blood samples which will need to take place in a facility with a higher biosafety level. Besides Ebola, the system can be used to treat other diseases.