There is an abundance of viruses out there capable of causing disease, many of which can present similar symptoms or, perhaps worse, none at all. Detection can, therefore, be a bit of a nightmare, sometimes demanding a labor-intensive and costly suite of tests to get to the bottom of a case.
We all know that better diagnosis leads to better treatment. However, that’s not always possible when tests for diseases or infections take time to generate results, or are inaccurate.
But what if there was a universal, one-size-fits-all test that could pick up any known virus in a single sample, eliminating this time-consuming detective work? Well, according to media reports, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine might just have achieved this long-awaited, groundbreaking feat.
“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” senior author Gregory Storch said in a statement. “It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels,” he added.
To make their “ViroCap,” the researchers began by creating a broad panel of sequences to be targeted by the test, which they generated using unique stretches of DNA or RNA found in viruses across 34 different human- and animal-infecting families. This resulted in millions of stretches of nucleic acid that can be used to capture matching strands in a sample, should they be present. According to the report, the results are pretty impressive.
“The broad spectrum of this test is not its only remarkable quality: It’s so sensitive that it can even pick up slight variations in sequences, meaning that a virus’ subtype can also be identified – a feature not possible with many traditional tests,” the report says.
To demonstrate its capabilities, the researchers took samples from a small group of patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and compared the results to those obtained from standard tests.
While traditional sequencing managed to find viruses in the majority of the children, ViroCap also managed to pick up some common viruses that it had failed to detect. These included a flu virus and the virus responsible for chickenpox. In a second test run on a different group of children displaying fevers, the new test found an additional seven viruses to the 11 that the traditional testing managed to detect.
“We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown,” Storch said.
This test would be a great tool in the face of outbreaks like Ebola. Researchers hopes to tweak it so that it can detect genetic material from other microbes, like bacteria. If that’s possible, we could have a seriously useful machine on our hands that could change diagnostic medicine for the better.
What do you think? Please share your reaction to this amazing news in the comments section below.