Diagnose Ebola In 30 Minutes

Japanese researchers have developed a way to diagnose Ebola in 30 minutes and without expensive equipment.

AsianScientist (Sep. 8, 2014) – Japanese researchers report the development of a new test to diagnose Ebola—one that will only take 30 minutes.

Ebola is a highly dangerous tropical disease caused by a pathogen known as ebolavirus. An adverse outbreak is now rampaging through West Africa, where more than 1,500 people have died.

Five variations of the ebolavirus have been identified so far, with at least four known to cause Ebola hemorrhagic fever. These species differ in their genetic sequences.

Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antibody assays are typically used to identify the virus, and thus diagnose the disease. PCR is a simple but powerful method to amplify genetic material, but it is time-consuming and requires specialized equipment; resource which rural regions and field hospitals may be ill-equipped to secure, especially in the face of high patient demand.

According to Professor Jiro Yasuda of Japan’s Nagasaki University, the new method developed by his team, in collaboration with colleagues from Eiken Chemical, requires only a small, battery-powered warmer.

The team selected six sections of these genes demonstrating the fewest differences in sequence among the virus types; after this, they made primers that would combine with them. When mixed with a patient DNA sample and heated to 60-65ºC, these primers will amplify only DNA unique to the Ebola virus.

The process requires 30 minutes to complete, following which the sample turns cloudy due to the resulting by-products. Such a visual cue provides an elegant and simple method for testers to confirm the presence of ebolavirus.

When testing their proposed new method, the researchers successfully detected not only the ebolavirus, but also the pathogenic viruses which cause Marburg hemorrhagic fever and Lassa fever.

“The entire system costs just tens of thousands of yen [hundreds of US dollars], which developing countries should be able to afford,” Prof. Yasuda told to Agence France-Presse. “The new method is simpler than the current one and can be used in countries where expensive testing equipment is not available.”

Prof. Yasuda and his team of researchers hope to tie up with companies to make the technology available in Ebola-stricken countries.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: NIAID/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Yamini graduated with a bachelors degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Manchester, UK. She has a passion for science and how it is perceived by the wider community.

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