A single drop of your blood. That’s all it takes for VirScan to analyze every virus you’ve contracted over a lifetime. I guess whatever happened in Vegas followed you home…
The research, published in Science, is vital. Not only will it give researchers a tool to study how a virus spreads, it will make patient histories a lot easier for medical professionals.
We’ve all seen the forms. Have you had any of the ailments on this three-page, fine-print form? Hmmm… I hate needles, but to avoid having to fill that out, you can prick my finger.
What is VirScan?
The test focuses on 206 virus families and over 1,000 strains. It covers nearly the entirety of what researchers call the ‘virome’ – a list of any virus capable of infecting humans.
It works by testing for antibodies in the blood. We can use the flu as an example. If you contract this year’s strain, your immune system will immediately start to produce antibodies, or specific proteins, to respond to the viral infection.
With new tests and treatments releasing every day, you may be wondering about the price? While still experimental, it comes in at roughly $25.
The test has a patent pending from Brigham and Women’s Hospital. While there’s no company fronting the test, the research team wants VirScan under a corporate umbrella to further develop and deploy it globally.
VirScan Study Breakdown
569 people were tested in the United States, Thailand, Peru and South Africa. On average, study participants tested positive for ten species. It included the flu, gastrointestinal viruses and the common cold.
The outlier? A few study participants tested positive for as many as 25 species of viruses. Dr. Stephen Elledge, a senior author of the study, said the research team cannot conclusively explain the outlying participants.
Differences in patterns of exposure did emerge through the study. For instance, participants tested outside the United States had higher rates of virus exposure. An exact reason isn’t known, but researchers pointed to “differences in population density, cultural practices, sanitation or genetic susceptibility.”
One of the surprises in the study were participants infected with HIV. Expectations were for responses to others viruses to be diminished. “Instead, they have exaggerated responses to almost every virus,” he said.
Another was the commonality of our immune system response. Geographic, ethnic and cultural differences did not show up. The body made very similar antibodies to target the same regions of the virus.
Possibilities of VirScan
Beyond tracking how a virus spreads, VirScan does open the door to new opportunities. Leadings candidates for researchers are autoimmune diseases, such MS and Type 1 diabetes, cancer and other diseases.
For autoimmune disorders, researchers have long theorized viruses play a contributing role in provoking an immune system response, which in turn mistakes a person’s cells for a virus.
Cancer researchers could use the technology of VirScan to answer why the same disease progresses faster in some patients, and not others. The same technology could offer insights into why chemotherapy and other treatments succeed on some and not on others.
There are limitations to VirScan. Sensitivity is a concern with the current test missing infections that have a smaller antibody response. It also missed a few minuscule viruses.
According to Elledge, these limitations will disappear in future improvements.
Read the full study / trial at Science.
What do you think? It has my curiosity piqued. I’m more than willing to pay $25 and discover every virus I’ve contracted. I think…
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