Brain and Body

Researchers Developed a Rapid Zika Detection Test That Only Costs $2

July 4, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Indicators in Zika virus test
Photo credit: American Chemical Society. Indicators in a test capable of detecting low levels of the Zika virus turn blue (inset) when the virus is present in a saliva sample.

It diagnoses the virus in just 40 minutes. 

As the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro inch closer, anxieties are rising over the spread of the Zika virus. Back in February, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared Zika a public health emergency, and cases of infection continue to pop up in the Americas.

Now, reporting in the journal Analytical Chemistry, researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania describe a new technology that rapidly detects Zika in saliva, even in low levels. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the test only costs $2.

The current standard tests to detect Zika require expensive lab equipment and trained medical experts, and other low-cost methods that have been reported can’t detect low levels of Zika or distinguish between Zika and similar viruses, like dengue.

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To offer a cheaper and more effective alternative, Changchun Liu and colleagues put their efforts towards creating a rapid Zika detection test.

To ensure that the test doesn’t confuse other similar viruses with Zika, the researchers discovered a stretch of genetic code that’s almost identical for 19 different strains of Zika. The code isn’t present in other pathogens, so the system is highly selective for Zika.

The $2 test uses a chemically heated cup without a need for electrical power, as well as a leuco crystal violet (LCV) dye. The test only requires the addition of water to operate.

If Zika is present in a saliva sample — even low levels of the sequence — the dye will turn blue within 40 minutes.

“Our system is particularly suitable for resource-poor settings, where centralized laboratory facilities, funds, and trained personnel are in short supply, and for use in doctors’ offices, clinics, and at home,” the researchers wrote in the study.

On a positive note, just a couple days ago, a team of scientists reported the first-ever successful animal trials for two candidate Zika vaccines, and they’re now heading into human trials. It may only be a matter of time before we have an effective way to prevent the virus.

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