Portable Device to Diagnose Ebola in low Resource Setting

Hemorrhagic fever outbreaks such as Ebola are very difficult to detect and control because of lack of low-cost, easily deployable diagnostics and also initial clinical symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain is similar to other endemic diseases such as malaria which is a mosquito-borne blood infection that’s endemic in regions where the incidence of Ebola is also high. According to Dr. John Connor, associate professor of microbiology and researcher at Boston University, “For public health officials working in West Africa during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, distinguishing between the two wasn’t always easy”. Connor is part of an international team that is currently working on an easy-to-use, portable, battery-powered test that can identify Ebola, as well as malaria in less than 30 minutes. This researcher team has created a portable and fast-acting test that can distinguish Ebola infections from other fever-causing infectious diseases such as Lassa fever and malaria and the detailed study of the new device was published in the 12 December issue of Science Translational Medicine.

The test platform requires only a blood sample, pre-packaged vials, and a battery-powered reader. This device is designed specifically for use in settings that lack laboratory infrastructure and electricity. The device uses magnetic beads coated in antibodies that attract specific infectious agents in a blood sample which can be detected with a laser. Each infectious agent creates “a unique scattering barcode” that is easily distinguishable when a laser hits the processed sample. The team has successfully tested their device in monkey models of Ebola and has also conducted field tests in Senegal and Guinea using 190 blood samples from Ebola patients that were collected during the 2014 outbreak. 163 samples from malaria patients and 233 samples from non-infected individuals were also used in the study.

The test has detected the presence of Ebola in 90% of the samples when compared to a detection rates ranging from 65% to 92% for other rapid diagnostic tests. The device shows almost similar efficacy associated with a standard RT-PCR diagnostic (95.7%). The test also showed excellent capabilities for detecting malaria by correctly detecting malaria in 100% of the samples. Although the team says that further testing is necessary to optimize the device, but it has the potential to offer a simple and less expensive diagnostic tool to accelerate the detection and management of Ebola epidemics in under developed regions of the world.

– Arpitha Shetty,
Research Analyst,
Infoholic Research