Researchers have developed a revolutionary test that can reveal almost every virus a person has ever been exposed to by analyzing a single drop of blood. According to the scientists, a person’s entire viral history is stored within the DNA, which the new blood test is very successful at examining.
The new blood test, part of a project called VirScan, could enable doctors to diagnose potentially deadly diseases, such as hepatitis C, long before they even begin to manifest. “I’m sure there’ll be lots of applications we haven’t even dreamed of,” study lead author Stephen J. Elledge explained.
The new method is pretty straightforward: if a patient ever contacted a known virus during his lifetime, the test will reveal it. The available database includes over a thousand strains of viruses from 206 different species. What makes the test so effective is that it focuses on detecting antibodies. Antibodies are the way our immune system reacts when faced with a threat and their production often continues long after the virus has been dealt with.
“The approach is clever and a technological tour de force,” said Prof. Ian Lipkin, with Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. “It has the potential to reveal viruses people have encountered recently or many years earlier.”
The potential applications of the new testing method are fairly numerous. For instance, in can be deployed on a larger scale in order to determine the ages at which children are exposed to a series of illnesses, enhancing the effectiveness of vaccinations.
Since the blood test is so good at reviewing someone’s viral history, scientists hope it will be used to learn more about the patterns of certain diseases. All that needs to be done in this case is collect frozen blood samples that most universities and laboratories already have in store from other studies.
Researchers have already found their first suspects to put the revolutionary blood test to work: Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It is believed that these diseases are often triggered by the immune system’s faulty reaction when confronted with certain types of viruses, which in return causes the antibodies to attack a person’s own cells. Finding a pattern might enable the scientists to determine which viruses generate the reaction in the first place.
The first trial of the test included 569 patients from the United States, South Africa, Peru and Thailand. Testing revealed most people have been exposed to approximately 10 species of viruses during their lifetime, most of them fairly common, such as flu or gastrointestinal illness. As for the few patients who showed exposure to more than 25 species, the scientists are still trying to figure out a pattern.
Image Source: Renegade Health