Researchers are working on a new way to detect the Zika virus, in order to help doctors earlier diagnose and treat patients. Professor Jean Patterson, Ph.D., of Texas Biomedical Research Institute, alongside others from the University of California at Santa Cruz, the Brigham Young University, and the University of California at Berkeley, are currently working on the device.
The test uses optofluidic chips to screen different bodily fluids, such as blood, urine, and semen, to test for the presence of the virus. This approach will also help determine what stage the disease is in and provide better insight to doctors about the patient’s status.
“What this technology will do is tell us, first of all, if you’ve already been infected. If you have antibodies, you wouldn’t be at risk for a new infection. It will also tell us where you are in your infection,” Dr. Patterson explained.
Knowing what stage the disease is in is critical, since many antivirals work in the early stages of infections and are not effective as the disease progresses. This specific diagnostic test would tell doctors if the patient was still in the RNA replicating stage, a sign of recent infection, or if the patient had started to produce viral particles, an indication that the disease as significantly progressed.
This study, delving into a diagnostic technology that could detect the Zika virus, started two years ago. So far, Texas Biomed has provided virus data and viral material that researchers at UC Santa Cruz have been able to test. Additionally, scientists are using marmosets from the Southwest National Primate Research Center that have provided blood, urine, and semen samples for testing.
Electrical engineering professor Holger Schmidt, Ph.D., of UC Santa Cruz, described the technology as “a lab-on-a-chip.” The device, encompassing optofluidics, uses a combination of two different technologies: microfluidics and integrated optics. Microfluidics is a process that takes biological samples for detection purposes, such as medical and chemical analysis. The integrated optics then use optical waveguides, lasers, and other optical elements on a chip. Combined, these technologies detect molecules without the need for amplification that other tests need.
A similar test is being developed for the Ebola virus that Texas Biomed researchers are currently working on. Dr. Schmidt said this simplified way of testing for infection could offer assistance to people in remote areas like parts of Africa.