By Jide Ajibola
A group of researchers (nature.com) claim to have developed a new smart-phone controlled device that can be used to detect zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses within thirty minutes. These researchers work at the Sandia National Laboratory, which is a part of the US Department of Energy.
These three diseases are a group of arboviruses caused by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes that have caused serious outbreaks in recent times. The increased incidence of these diseases has mirrored increased globalization. Zika virus is primarily spread through bites from A. aegypti mosquito, sexual transmission and blood transfusions. Aedes aegypti and albopictus have been implicated in dengue and chikungunya. Pregnant women are known to be at a higher risk (CDC). Symptoms may range from asymptomatic, mild to severe with complications such as microcephaly seen in Zika virus infected infants and Guillain-Barre syndrome in adults while acute neurologic complications are seen in Chikungunya virus.
The portable device is said to cost about $100 and $30 for the phone. It works by using reverse-transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification method (RT-LAMP) that eliminates the need to process biological matrices such blood, urine and saliva. An app on the smart phone serves as the interface to operating the device. Conventional testing methods include polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to replicate the virus, direct viral antigen detection, or detection of specific antibodies using serology. The researchers found that this RT-LAMP detection method is useful for a yes/no diagnosis at point-of-care.
Currently, there are no definitive treatment for these diseases or approved vaccines for prevention and those are the main focus for public health researchers. However, if the efficacy of this innovative diagnostic technique is confirmed, it might offer more hope in terms of vaccine and treatment research. Co-infections, coupled with a lack of rapid tests, have complicated real life situations. A rapid-quick testing method would be very useful in outbreak settings to identify persons infected by these vectors. This LAMP method is an example of how technology can help to advance public health.
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