SAN FRANCISCO (AA): Researchers announced Tuesday they have developed a test that can detect virtually any virus in humans or animals – an innovation that could detect outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola before they become widespread.
The new tests are not designed only to prevent epidemics of Ebola or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), but will help doctors easily diagnose patients suffering from much more common diseases like rotavirus and norovirus, both of which can cause severe gastrointestinal issues.
The test and is far more comprehensive and sensitive than current methods commonly used by medical professionals. The invention was announced in the journal Genome Research by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health.
“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” the study’s senior author, Washington University’s Gregory Storch, MD, said in a statement. “It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels.”
Currently, doctors must run a battery of tests on patients to detect viruses, many of which test for small spectrum of diseases. ViroCap is groundbreaking because it doesn’t require a doctor to guess at a diagnosis; instead, it simply tests for all viruses.
“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 continued.
ViroCap uses a unique genetic strand from every type of known virus to screen for specific diseases. It can even reveal detailed data about evolving viruses, like the common flu.
Scientists noted that they want to test ViroCap further, and it will be at least several years before it is clinically available.
Once released, researchers plan to make the test globally available to clinicians and scientistsa.