Detecting viruses and keeping a record of their history is a difficult job as we get infected and get cured of them a lot in our lives. The new testing process from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) can not only detect the current viruses prevailing in your blood, but it can also provide a detailed history of your previous viral infections in the form of history. It can detect all of that just with the help of a single drop of blood. The researchers at HHMI have termed the new VirScan superior to previous testing regimes that can only search for one virus at a single time!
The secret to VirScan is the unbiased approach to virus testing. The technique screens blood samples to react against any of the 206 virus types that affect human health. Since these antibodies are released and do not disappear even after several years, they can be used to detect both current and past viral infections.
The antibodies target virus cells by searching in peptides on the surface of viruses known as epitopes. The device works by luring all antibodies in the blood sample to bind with epitome peptides, thus exposing it to a large number of virus families. To test the effectiveness of the device, the team had to encode 93,000 strands of viral protein nature DNA and exposed them to a Bacteriophage. As a result, it contains the peptides of more than 1,000 known human virus strains.
Mixing blood with this altered bacteriophage resulted in all the antibodies binding to the respective peptides present. It is like drawing out opposite charges using a magnet. After the antibodies have joined to the peptides, all parts of the bacteriophage are removed except for these United strands of peptides and antibodies. Now it is up to the testers to test the sample. It might take three days to test over a hundred specimens, but the team is optimistic that the lead time will be decreased with further research. The cost of an individual test is still 25$.
The team has conducted experiments on blood samples of over 569 people from US, South Africa, Peru and Thailand. On average, it was found out that each had ten known virus strands in his system with US residents having a lower number than others in the study group. The team also conducted studies on HIV-affected patients and found out that the weakened immune system present in their blood resulted in increased number of antibodies for different kinds of viruses. The samples also had a very specific set of responses for each virus family too. It will result in a much better understanding of the immune system and even the DNA structure itself. So, this research will prove extremely useful in the quick diagnosis of viral infections.
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