St. Louis, Missouri – Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis developed a new technology called ViroCap, which is able to detect any virus affecting animals and people, according to a press release.

ViroCap will be able to detect deadly viruses like Ebola, Marburg and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), as well as more common ones.

ViroCap test can detect virtually any virus known to infect humans and animals, ranging from common viruses to more exotic ones. The test is so sensitive that it can even detect variant strains of viruses as well as multiple viruses at the same time, something no other current diagnostic test is capable of. Credit: Brain Scape

In order to make the investigation, scientists evaluated ViroCap in samples taken from patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The new test succeeded to detect the viruses on all the patients, while the standard tests failed to do so in 10 of 14 patients, ignoring everyday agents like influenza and herpes.

Used in a group of children with unexplained fevers, the ViroCap found 7 viruses not detected by the standard tests. The number of viruses detected at the end increased in a 52 percent, according to the study.

This new test is supposed to be sensitive enough to detect all kinds of viruses, even when the doctors don’t know what they are looking for. This could mean treating an illness at the right time, instead of spending too much time looking for the right diagnosis by using different tests.

“With this test, you don’t have to know what you’re looking for,” said the study’s senior author, Gregory Storch, MD, a Ruth L. Siteman Professor of Pediatrics, according to the press release.

In order to produce the test, scientists analyzed and focused on unique DNA or RNA from every known virus that could possibly infect humans and animals. The material detected was analyzed using genetic sequencing technology, and any new viruses could be added to the test to keep it updated.

Researchers say that even the most complete tests doctors use at the moment can’t take account for all viruses, like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which is used in clinical laboratories and can only screen for 20 similar viruses at the same time, according to the study.

Another advantage of the ViroCap is that it allows doctors to identify the mutations and subtypes of the viruses, due to more detailed information.

“It also may be possible to modify the test so that it could be used to detect pathogens other than viruses, including bacteria, fungi, and other microbes, as well as genes that would indicate the pathogen is resistant to treatment with antibiotics or other drugs,” said co-author Kristine Wylie, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, according to the press release.

Nevertheless, there is plenty research to be made in order to make the ViroCap test clinically available for doctors and researchers to use. The study is published in the journal Genome Research.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis