Technology

What Is VirScan And How Does This Blood Test Work?

VirScan is a DNA-based blood test technology that can recall a person's viral history or any disease a person has encountered over the course of life, using a single drop of blood.

VirScan is a DNA-based blood test technology that can recall a person’s viral history or any disease a person has encountered over the course of life, using a single drop of blood.

This technology was developed by researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) including researchers from eight other universities such as Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins University and the Max Planck Institute, Germany.

With VirScan, doctors can detect any kind of illnesses long before they manifest, and researchers hope this technology could even lead to early detection of hepatitis C, a form of viral hepatitis transmitted in infected blood that causes chronic liver disease.

One of the best things about this method is that one does not have to run different blood tests to check for particular viruses; it just needs a single test to determine all the viruses that have infected an individual. In short, it is like performing a full-viral scan, for an estimated cost of $25 per blood sample.

“We’ve developed a screening methodology to basically look back in time in people’s [blood] sera and see what viruses they have experienced,” said Stephen J. Elledge, an HHMI investigator at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“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.”

This new technology, known as VirScan, is based on advanced robotics and DNA sequencing technologies.

How Does it Work?

As explained in the journal, Science, the VirScan works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans.

The immune system actively produces pathogen-specific antibodies the time it encounters the virus and it continues to produce these antibodies unless the infection recedes completely, even if it takes years or decades. Then, VirScan detects the viral infections the immune system is already fighting and use these antibodies as a means to provide a history of every virus an individual has encountered.

“The approach is clever and a technological tour de force,” said Ian Lipkin, a professor at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, who was not involved in the development of VirScan.

“It has the potential to reveal viruses people have encountered recently or many years earlier … Thus, this is a powerful new research tool.”

With VirScan, doctor can now understand what triggers certain autoimmune diseases. Since most people get infected with many different strains of virus in same way, this system could help develop vaccines for previously untreated conditions. [Hat Tip:HHMI, Science]

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