According to a latest report from World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 20,000 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with more than 8,000 deaths. Contributing to a better management of the Ebola-outbreak, researchers at the German Primate Center (DPZ) have developed a Diagnostics-in-a-Suitcase. This solution contains all the equipment and reagents necessary to detect the Ebola virus within 15 minutes at the point of need. It is reported that the new method is 6 to 10 times faster than the current techniques with equal sensitivity. This is expected to be a great relief for scientists working under challenging conditions to diagnose Ebola who have to send samples to labs and then wait days for the results.
Currently the Ebola virus is detected using a technique called real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that looks for the genome signature of the virus in the sample. However, this is not suitable for remote locations without electricity and refrigeration, and the samples have to be transported under controlled conditions to remote labs. The Diagnostics-in-a-Suitcase uses Recombinase Polymerase Amplification (RPA) – a technology developed by TwistDx.
As sensitive as PCR, RPA works much faster. It operates at constant temperature and the reagents used in RPA tests are stable in dried form and can be transported safely without refrigeration. Another advantage of the suitcase lab is it is powered by onboard solar panels and power packs. This enables rapid detection of Ebola virus not only out in the field, but also at other points of need such as airports and quarantine stations.
This project is one of six selected from 216 applications for funding by the British Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA). Dr. Christiane Stahl-Hennig, the Head of the Unit of Infection Models, said “The early detection of Ebola infected patients will lead to a more effective virus control since medical staff can identify and isolate confirmed Ebola cases more rapidly”.
While the disease is continuing to spread across Guinea where the suitcase lab is going to be tested, the US has now lifted Ebola screening for US-bound travelers from Mali. This is because 42 days have elapsed – double the 21-day incubation period of the virus – since the last Ebola infected patient in Mali came into contact with anyone not wearing protective gear.