Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a test for the Zika virus that produces results quickly and don't require refrigeration.
To test for the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitos and is linked to birth defects, blood samples have to be sent to a laboratory, where a positive or negative result is generated in a couple days. The blood and the chemicals used in the test have to be refrigerated. Researchers at Wash U's medical and engineering schools created a test for the virus using nanotechnology, or particles smaller than 100 nanometers. It shows results in a matter of minutes.
"If you can get a reading in 15, 20 minutes, you still have the patient or person who's infected in your presence and if you're a medical team, you can start counseling about treatment," said Jerry Morrissey, an anesthesiology professor at Wash U's Medical School.
The test is a piece of paper coated with tiny gold particles that are covered with a protein that reacts to substances in an infected person's blood. Researchers said this test does not require refrigeration, which could make a difference in tropical regions where resources are limited. The Zika virus mainly affects areas near the equator.
"In the battlefield or in low to middle-income countries, we cannot trust they're going to have electricity or have refrigeration," said Srikanth Singamaneni, a mechanical engineering professor at Wash U. "The kind of technology that we are trying to develop should not rely on those factors."
The technology has only been tested on nine subjects, so researchers want to acquire funding to prove that it's successful among a group of a couple hundred people. The test also produces a small color change when it comes in contact with an infected person's blood and scientists are hoping to make that change more visible to the naked eye. Potentially, researchers added that this approach could be used to test for other types of infectious diseases, such as the dengue virus.
Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli