If you’ve ever wanted to be horrified by just how many viruses have called your body home over the course of your life, you now no longer have to wonder.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have developed a DNA-based test that uses just a single drop of blood in order to analyze a person’s viral history. It’s a remarkable accomplishment as most tests today can only scan for one virus at a time.
They hope that the medical and scientific communities will embrace it and use it to detect illnesses such as hepatitis C and HIV early on, which in turn will lead to proper treatment and better health. The test, dubbed “VirScan”, could also help researchers investigate what exactly triggers autoimmune diseases and cancers.
Stephen J. Elledge, senior study author and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, gave a statement saying that “I’m sure there’ll be lots of applications we haven’t even dreamed of. That’s what happens when you invent technology – you can’t imagine what people will do with it”.
The study, published earlier this week, on Thursday (June 4, 2015), in the jourmnal Science, informs that the still experimental test works by searching the blood for antibodies left by the immune system after past exposure to various viruses. The test takes into account all of the two-hundred-and-six (206) species of viruses knows to affect the human body.
The experts share that the antibodies are not hard to find as the immune system typically produces them for decades after its defeated a virus. VirScan than simply makes a list of the antibodies found and arranges them in a blueprint of sorts.
So far the response from peers has been positive. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University and professor of epidemiology who was not involved in developing VirScan, gave a statement admitting that the test has a clever approach and is quite a technological tour de force for modern times.
He goes on to say that since the test has the capacity of detecting both viruses that a person has recently had, and viruses that they had many years ago, VirScan is without a doubt a powerful research tool.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in developing VirScan, gave a statement of his own saying that the test will be “a treasure trove for communicable disease epidemiology”. He says that the test will revolutionize the field by having the same level of impact that the electron microscope had when it was first introduced, and that it will give scientists more resolution at a micro level.
The team of researchers behind VirScan also published the results of the tests that they’ve conducted so far. They used VirScan to screen five-hundred-and-sixty-nine (569) subjects from the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. When they looked at the results they concluded that, on average, a person is typically exposed to ten (10) of the two-hundred-and-six (206) species of viruses.
Stephen J. Elledge theorized that these subjects have most likely been infected with several different strains of the same virus as multiple strains of the same virus show up collectively ad just one hit.
Some of the subjects, however, showed signs of having been exposed to more than twice the average number.
The test can currently be performed for just twenty-five dollars ($25).
Image Source: egi.eu