About the size of a tablet, a portable device that could be used in a host of environments like a busy airport or even a remote location in South America, may hold the key to detecting the dreaded Zika virus accurately, rapidly and inexpensively using just a saliva sample. While scientists across the world are scrambling to find some sort of immunization, researchers from Florida Atlantic University are working to develop a diagnostic tool to reduce the impact of the outbreak until a vaccine is identified.
“Most of the Zika cases in the United States and especially in Florida are travel related,” said Waseem Asghar, Ph.D., lead investigator and assistant professor at the Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in FAU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science and in the Department of Biological Sciences in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “We are working to develop a tool that can be used without expensive laboratory equipment and skilled technicians in various settings like an airport or a community health center to provide reassurance to expectant families and those concerned because of recent travel. For about $2 and within 15 minutes, we hope to accurately determine whether or not an individual has an active infection.”
Currently, patients are diagnosed by testing whether they have antibodies against the Zika virus in their bloodstream, however, the antibody test cannot discriminate accurately between the Zika virus and other flaviviruses such as Dengue, West Nile virus and Chikungunya. The more accurate method for detecting the virus is by looking for pieces of the viral genome in a patient’s blood sample using a test known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is costly ($20,000+), bulky and requires highly skilled laboratory personnel to operate. Furthermore, results for PCR testing can take hours to yield results.
More information: Brückenkopf GmbH