6th October 2015
New test detects all viruses that infect people, animals
Researchers have developed a new test, ViroCap, which can detect nearly any virus known to infect humans and animals. They are making the technology publicly available worldwide, for the benefit of patients and research.
A new test detects virtually any virus that infects people and animals, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where the technology was developed.
Many thousands of viruses are known to cause illness in people and animals, and making a diagnosis can be an exhaustive exercise, at times requiring a battery of different tests. That's because current tests aren't sensitive enough to detect low levels of viral bugs or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of being responsible for a patient's illness.
"With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for," says the study's senior author, Gregory Storch, MD. "It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown."
The test, known as ViroCap, examines two million sequences of genetic data from viruses in humans and animals, ranging from common viruses to the more exotic ones. It is so sensitive that it can even detect variant strains of viruses, as well as multiple viruses at the same time – something no other current diagnostic test is capable of. Alongside this, ViroCap is 52% more accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are currently used for diagnoses.
"It also may be possible to modify the test so that it could be used to detect pathogens other than viruses, including bacteria, fungi and other microbes, as well as genes that would indicate the pathogen is resistant to treatment with antibiotics or other drugs," said co-author Kristine Wylie, PhD.
The researchers plan to launch an online service for the test. However, it will not be available for clinical use until validation studies are done, which may take several years. In the meantime, the technology can be used by scientists to study viruses in a research setting. Their latest work is published in the online journal Genome Research.