CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Although we may not remember exactly what we were testing for—one might recall an hour spent sitting in high school chemistry class suspending tiny pieces of thin paper into liquid, waiting with curious anticipation as they swiftly changed from white to violet—but at the time, this change in color told us something, and although it seemed like magic, it was actually science.
Today, a similar idea has been recreated through a paper-based blood test by researchers at Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology (MIT) which simultaneously tests for three diseases at once: Ebola, dengue and yellow fever viruses.
These diseases are correlated with fear in the developing world, where they spread rapidly and take the lives of many. Similar in appearance to a commercial pregnancy test and coming with a U.S. $5 price tag, this new test was presented at a conference of the American Chemical Society (ACS) the week of August 18.
The test was made to be easily assembled and read, but in science terms, Sci Dev Net explains, “The test combines colored silver nanoparticles with antibodies against each of the three viruses. If a patient has the corresponding virus in their blood, the test pad shows a disease-specific color within a few minutes.
At the moment, healthcare workers use genetic techniques to examine the DNA in a blood sample and identify a particular virus. This takes several hours and requires a stable laboratory environment.”
Such a test holds the possibility of providing a means to detect disease in remote areas which do not have access to power or expensive equipment found within hospitals. It also provides a way for medical professionals to determine whether someone is coming down with a bug, or whether the need to prepare for an epidemic has come within minutes.
Another way such a test could benefit medical research is its ability to “map out the spread of diseases” through images taken of the paper test, which would reveal the GPS, time and day of when the disease is spreading or when it is dying out.
Despite its potential in the medical world, further testing is required as it is not sensitive enough to replace the diagnosis conducted by a laboratory test. However, researchers are currently working on making the test even more sensitive to reduce laboratory costs and even less expensive than its current price.
The test also awaits further approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be tested in Ebola effected areas, as it has only been tested against blood samples with added viral proteins. Due to the nature of such a test, its safe disposal remains under careful consideration as it is considered hazardous material.
Although more research awaits before its distribution in disease-stricken areas, the knowledge of having created such an accessible test could forever change the nature of treating epidemics.
– Nikki Schaffer
Sources: SciDev.Net, YouTube, EurekAlert