The details of a paper-based prototype diagnostic device used to detect the Zika virus, have been published in the journal, Cell. The portable device was able to identify the virus in the blood and saliva of infected monkeys.
The Aedes mosquito is the primary vector responsible for transmitting the Zika virus to humans. Though the majority of those that become infected show only mild symptoms, the virus has been connected to cases of microcephaly in newborns, as well as other serious birth defects.
Because of the virus’ potential to compromise prenatal health and development in pregnant women that become infected with Zika, researchers are frantically trying to develop better diagnostic tests to control the spread of the outbreak. Among these researchers are James Collins, of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in Boston and his colleagues, who have developed a test capable of detecting small amounts of the Zika virus in multiple biological samples.
The researchers previously published the details of paper-based diagnostic utilizing sensors capable of detecting nucleic acids characteristic of Ebola and other RNA viruses. The latest research combines the RNA detection system with a CRISPR-based module to create a freeze-dried diagnostic for the Zika virus.
The test produces a colour change in the presence of the Zika virus. When the device was used to test blood and saliva samples taken from Zika-positive monkeys, the colourimetric detection was functional, even at low concentrations of the virus.
The study investigators caution that the device is only in the proof of concept stage. With the right resources however, they say the diagnostic could be ready for clinical use in just a few months.
As current diagnostics sometimes misidentify other viruses related to Zika, the researchers hope this tool could be more reliable. Because the test is portable, it could also help aid workers screen for the virus in areas that are without a centralized hospital or testing facility.
“The test’s low cost and minimal equipment also means that it can be used for monitoring the spread of illnesses across large populations of people, enabling us to monitor the pathogen as an outbreak is occurring,” said Collins. “NGOs [non-governmental organizations] like the World Health Organization (WHO) can use this information to get ahead of an outbreak in order to contain it and save lives.”