Low-cost prototype Ebola test developed


BOSTON: A Harvard researcher and his team have developed a prototype Ebola test that could detect the virus in 30 minutes and cost less than $1 to reproduce.

US health authorities also on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) issued new guidelines for health workers returning from Ebola-hit nations after a firestorm of criticism over state quarantine restrictions, including from the United Nations chief.

Jim Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, said he and his team created the test in 12 hours, using just $20 of materials.

“We’re keen to see if we can move the technology out into the field to address the [Ebola] crisis,” Collins said.

The test takes molecules inside a cell drawn from a saliva or blood sample and then drops them on a pocket-sized piece of paper that contains freeze-dried biosensors—molecular switches that are activated in the presence of molecules of the Ebola virus. If, after 30 minutes, the paper turns from yellow to purple, the sample is positive for Ebola.

Collins said the team still has to ensure a low false-positive rate with the test and make it more sensitive so that it would work even with a smaller amount of viral molecules before it will be ready to be field-tested.

“I do feel this has great potential, using really low-cost materials,” said Lingchong You, an expert in cellular reprogramming at Duke University.

Currently, the “gold-standard” test for Ebola is RT-PCR, or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, which is very sensitive and highly specific, meaning that it does not produce false positives, said John Connor, a researcher at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. However, it takes about four hours to produce results, Connor said. The test reportedly costs anywhere from $60 to $200.

Revised quarantine
The enforced quarantine in New Jersey of a US nurse who had come home after treating patients in Sierra Leone sparked controversy— and accusations from the woman that her rights had been violated.

The nurse was discharged on Monday, one day after New York eased strict new quarantine rules under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday urged active monitoring of those at risk following stints in the countries hardest hit by the epidemic—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“Active direct monitoring” means high-risk people must be checked for fever daily for 21 days, and must restrict their travel and public activities for the duration of the virus’s incubation period, the CDC said, in an update of previous guidelines.

The new guidelines—which the CDC does not have the power to enforce on a national level—stop short of a strict quarantine.

That is the standard New Jersey and New York states had adopted, following the first confirmed case of the disease in New York—a doctor who had treated patients in Guinea.



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