A Plus: A new test can detect every virus known to humans.

A Plus:  A new test can detect every virus known to humans.

The new test uses genetic information to identify every virus present in an organism.

A new breakthrough has occurred in the lab.  A group of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis have developed a test that can identify all viruses know to man.

As LidTime reports, Dr. Gregory Storch, a professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, and a team of colleagues have created ViroCap.  ViroCap is a test that uses genome sequencing to locate and identify every virus present in an organism.

Viruses are exceedingly tiny, even in biological form.  They also tend to bond with their host cells and leave almost no mark or sign that they are there, making them very difficult to detect.  They are also very difficult to treat, and early and correct identification is important to direct medical care appropriately.

In lab tests, ViroCap was able to increase the number of viruses detected in two sets of patients from 21 to 32, an increase of 52%.  Nature World Report clarifies that the trial compared standard tests run in one set of patients to ViroCap run to the other set.  The patients, who provided biological samples, were children from the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.  In the first trial, standard testing found viruses in 10 in 14 children.  However, the ViroCap identified viruses in the 4 children missed by standard testing.

In the second trial, they identified 18 viruses in the 7 test children vs the traditional test’s 11.

The main reason the test is so effective is that previous mechanisms only tested for one specific virus.  Testing for several viruses then required multiple different tests.  ViroCap, however, can test for all of them at once without being requested to find one single virus.

“With this test,” Storch said.  “You don’t have to know what you’re looking for.”

The test was created to use a genome sequence of information, including DNA and RNA, from 34 different organism families.  It uses 2 million pieces of genetic material identified by the scientists to mark viral presence in the body.  It was able to detect usually missed viruses such as influenza B, parechovirus (responsible for GI and breathing problems), herpes virus 1, and the chickenpox virus, varicella-zoster, in the test subjects.

Because the test uses genome information, it can detect sub-types of common viruses.  Corresponding author Todd Wylie promised that, “the test is so sensitive that it also detects variant strains of viruses that are closely related genetically.” He adds that ViroCap is so revolutionary because, “slight genetic variations among viruses often can’t be distinguished by currently available tests and complicate physicians’ ability to detect all variants with one test.”

This breakthrough could be critical in today’s fast-changing molecular world.  New strains of viruses such as SARS, Ebola, rotovirus, and norovirus, could be identified in the test, streamlining attempts to discover exactly what the illness is.  While there may be no treatment or cure available for the new strain, knowing its relatives could help expedite finding an effective way to address it more quickly.

Many entertainment sources are finding rich material in the idea of a “outbreak,” or new super-virus that can spread globally and wreak havoc.  The Ebola outbreak earlier in 2015 is a prime example of how illness can decimate a population. The SARS epidemic from a few years previously still affects people’s perceptions of travel in certain countries.

Many even fear the possibility of a bio weapon that uses viral infection to affect population.  As mentioned, viruses are subtle but potent, and spread quickly.  If the virus is mistaken for something else, or proves unknown, treatment and response are delayed.  A test that could quickly identify new viruses could be crucial in our growing world.

The ViroCap has only completed its first round of testing, funded so far by the National Institute for Health.  It was successful in a lab setting but must prove it can be used outside of that controlled environment.  The test must complete multiple levels of analysis in the scientific field, which could take several years, before it is tested in humans.  Then, it will likely take a few more years to make it to the conventional market.

The ViroCap researchers plan to make it available to other facilities and clinicians worldwide to test.  Hopefully the test will survive its research and will become a powerful diagnostic resource for medical teams.

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