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This is how a new method will help detect Ebola, Zika and HIV, easily

News Agencies | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

Scientists have developed a new method to rapidly detect a single virus in urine, something that can be adapted to diagnose a range of viruses, including Ebola, Zika and HIV.

"The ultimate goal is to build a cheap, easy-to-use device to take into the field and measure the presence of a virus like Ebola in people on the spot," said Jeffrey Dick, graduate student at University of Texas at Austin. "While we are still pretty far from this, this work is a leap in the right direction," he said.

The new method is highly selective, meaning it is only sensitive to one type of virus, filtering out possible false negatives due to other viruses or contaminants. There are two other commonly used methods for detecting viruses in biological samples, but they have drawbacks: one requires a much higher concentration of viruses and the other requires samples to be purified to remove contaminants. The new method, however, can be used with urine straight from a person or animal.

The researchers demonstrated their new technique on a virus that belongs to the same family as the herpes virus, called murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV).

To detect individual viruses, the team places an electrode - a wire that conducts electricity, in this case, one that is thinner than a human cell - in a sample of mouse urine. They then add to the urine some special molecules made of enzymes and antibodies that naturally stick to the virus of interest. When all three stick together and then bump into the electrode, there's a spike in electric current that can be easily detected.

The researchers said their new method still needs refinement. For instance, the electrodes become less sensitive over time as a host of other naturally occurring compounds stick to them, leaving less surface area for viruses to interact with them. To be practical, the process will also need to be engineered into a compact and rugged device that can operate in a range of real world environments, they said.

-With agency inputs

First published: 25 May 2016, 12:15 IST