New tool could collect complete patient viral history with a single drop of blood: 5 things to know

A new diagnostic tool developed by Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers may be a much more efficient alternative to existing tests for viral exposure and infection history, for about $25 per blood sample. Here are five things to know about the tool.

1. Stephen J. Elledge, an HHMI investigator at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and lead developer of the technology, said the technology was developed to be used a screening methodology to " … look back in time in people's [blood] sera and see what viruses they have experienced. Instead of testing for one individual virus at a time, which is labor intensive, we can assay all of these at once. It's one-stop shopping."

2. Implementation of such a procedure would be advantageous, as many of the current methods of viral infection detection are limited to testing one pathogen at a time, "and are therefore used primarily to address specific clinical hypotheses," according to a study on the tool.

3. In blood tests from 569 individuals, researchers reported the performance of VirScan in detecting known infections and distinguishing between related viruses as comparable to that of traditional, single-virus identification tests.

4. The study concluded that VirScan enables broad exploration of human immune responses in large numbers of individuals, is effective for determining viral exposure and is easily expandable to include new viruses, bacteria and other pathogens as they are discovered. In the study alone, researchers recorded more antibody-peptide interactions to viral proteins than had been identified in the previous history of all viral exploration.

5. Mr. Elledge said that VirScan was initially tested on HIV and hepatitis C and that those tests turned out to be very accurate indicators of viral exposure. "We were in the sensitivity range of 95 to 100 percent … and the specificity was good — we didn't falsely identify people who were negative. That gave us confidence that we could detect other viruses, and when we did see them we would know they were real."

More articles about infection prevention:

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Viral infections in ICUs: 10 things to know

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