A new test for the Zika virus has been developed by researchers at MIT together with other professionals from notable institutions. The paper-based test can distinguish Zika virus from dengue virus. The two are very similar and, as such, difficult to tell apart. The test can be kept at room temperature and read using a simple electronic reader. The Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard developed the test such to be able to pin down the specific Zika strain using a sample saliva, urine or blood from a patient.
A simpler test
What is arguably the best thing about the test is the fact that it is simple to carry out. This makes it easy to use even for people who don’t have enough training. For this reason wide spread use of the test is now a viable option. The method currently used to test for the virus involves work with nucleic acids. It requires access to a sophisticated lab with expensive equipment and proficient technicians.
How the test works
The test is based on the same technology that the team developed to detect the Ebola virus in October 2014. The researches had found a way to create artificial gene networks that could be embedded on a piece of paper. The gene networks detect a genetic sequence causing the paper to change color. For the Zika virus the test uses isothermal RNA amplification and toehold sensors. The solution with amplified RNA is then applied on a freeze-dried piece of paper just about the same size as a stamp. Within 30 minutes a color change is observed and the virus is identified.
Team leader James Collins said that the research was propeled by the outbreak of the virus. The team had developed unique technologies which they used to steer their research towards creating a way to diagnose a patient with Zika faster in the field.