A team led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) has developed chip-based technology for reliable detection of Ebola virus and other viral pathogens. The system uses direct optical detection of viral molecules and can be integrated into a simple, portable instrument for use in field situations where rapid, accurate detection of Ebola infections is needed to control outbreaks. Laboratory tests using preparations of Ebola virus and other hemorrhagic fever viruses showed that the system has the sensitivity and specificity needed to provide a viable clinical assay. The team reported its results in an open-access article published on September 25, 2015 in Nature Scientific Reports. The article is titled “Optofluidic Analysis System for Amplification-Free, Direct Detection of Ebola Infection.” An outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa has killed more than 11,000 people since 2014, with new cases occurring recently in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The current gold standard for Ebola virus detection relies on PCR to amplify the virus's genetic material for detection. Because PCR works on DNA molecules and Ebola is an RNA virus, the reverse transcriptase enzyme is used to make DNA copies of the viral RNA prior to PCR amplification and detection. "Compared to our system, PCR detection is more complex and requires a laboratory setting," said senior author Dr. Holger Schmidt, the Kapany Professor of Optoelectronics at UC Santa Cruz. "We're detecting the nucleic acids directly, and we achieve a comparable limit of detection to PCR and excellent specificity." In laboratory tests, the system provided sensitive detection of Ebola virus, while giving no positive counts in tests with two related viruses, Sudan virus and Marburg virus.
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