New ViroCap test can detect any virus in humans and animals

30 Sep 2015

A research team from the US has made a huge breakthrough in diagnostic technology with a new test that could allow doctors to find a virus in a patient, even if they don’t know what they are looking for.

The new diagnostic tool called ViroCap was a collaboration between a number of universities and makes significant progress on existing diagnostic tools, which have until now required a series of tests that could take a considerable amount of time.

This is due to the fact that most tests administered to patients are either designed to look for a particular virus or are incapable of detecting the virus at low levels using genome testing.

Now, according to Washington University School in Missouri, this test, which has been published in the journal Genome Research, can be used to detect almost all viruses in humans and animals, including Ebola, Marburg and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

It can also be used to detect more routine viruses like the rotavirus or norovirus, both of which cause severe gastrointestinal infections.

To develop this test, the research team used 2m unique stretches of DNA and RNA, which are then compared with the patient’s samples and, through genetic sequencing, could match a virus with the patient’s DNA.

Will be made publically available

From clinical studies of ViroCap across two sets of patients with unknown viruses, the number of viruses diagnosed rose from 21 using genome testing to 32 using ViroCap, which marks a 52pc increase in diagnosis.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s senior author, Gregory Storch.

“It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown.”

Perhaps most importantly, the team said it plans to make the diagnostic tool publically available to scientists and clinicians worldwide, for the benefit of patients and research.

The next stage of the research will look to expand ViroCap’s detection capabilities to include bacteria, fungi and other microbes, as well as genes that would indicate the pathogen is resistant to treatment with antibiotics or other drugs.

Virus illustration via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic