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Japanese researchers develop 30-minute Ebola test

AFP-JIJI

Japanese researchers say they have developed a new method to detect the presence of the Ebola virus in just 30 minutes, speeding up the ability to diagnose infections of the deadly disease.

Professor Jiro Yasuda and his team at Nagasaki University say their process is also cheaper than the system being used in West Africa, where the virus has already killed more than 1,500 people. There is also an outbreak underway in Congo, in the center of the continent.

“The new method is simpler than the current one and can be used in countries where expensive testing equipment is not available,” Yasuda by telephone Tuesday.

“We have yet to receive any questions or requests, but we are pleased to offer the system, which is ready to go,” he said.

Yasuda said the team had developed what he called a “primer” that amplifies only those genes specific to the Ebola virus in samples of blood or other bodily fluids.

Using existing techniques, RNA — one of the biological molecules vital to the coding of genes — is extracted from any viruses present in a blood sample. This is then used to synthesize the viral DNA, which can be mixed with the primers and heated to 60 to 65 degrees.

If Ebola is present, DNA specific to the virus is amplified in 30 minutes due to the action of the primers. The by-products from the process cause the liquid to become cloudy, providing visual confirmation, Yasuda said.

The main method currently being used to detect Ebola is called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which requires doctors to heat and cool samples repeatedly and takes up to two hours.

“The new method only needs a small, battery-powered warmer and the entire system costs just tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars), which developing countries should be able to afford,” he added.

Ebola is easily transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids and the outbreaks have sparked alarm worldwide because of the threat posed by transmission via commercial airlines.