One single drop of blood can tell your body’s viral infection record
Having a virus inside your body and having no clue is more common that you can think. Even the ones that cause serious infections, such as hepatitis or HIV, can be sleeping silently inside a body for years until the first symptoms appear. This is one of the reasons that makes a new virus detection system, developed by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School, a remarkable breakthrough.
Its name is VirScan and it can compile — using a single drop of blood — your entire viral infection record. According to the creators, another advantage of this new system is that VirScan can simultaneously test for more than 1,000 different strains of viruses that currently or have previously infected a person, instead one at a time, like common blood tests.
“VirScan is a little like looking back in time: using this method, we can take a tiny drop of blood and determine what viruses a person has been infected with over the course of many years,” said corresponding author Stephen Elledge, a principal investigator in the Division of Genetics at BWH and Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “What makes this so unique is the scale: right now, a physician needs to guess what virus might be at play and individually test for it. With VirScan, we can look for virtually all viruses, even rare ones, with a single test.”
The price is also something to take into account. It costs around $25. However, VirScan is not ready for use in hospitals, only for research purposes.
The new virus detection system was tested with a study, published last June 5 in Science magazine. Around 600 people from different parts of the world (the United States, Peru, South Africa and Thailand) participated in it. With their help, researchers created a 'library of peptides' with more than 206 virus and 1.000 strains.
During their testings, they also discovered the average number of viral species per person — 10.
Researchers also highlighted that this findings can be used the clinic as well as the immunology field. This new system could help to understand immunity and how previous infections can have an implication in diseases that are developed later.
“A viral infection can leave behind an indelible footprint on the immune system,” Elledge said. “Having a simple, reproducible method like VirScan may help us generate new hypotheses and (help us) understand the interplay between the virome and the host’s immune system, with implications for a variety of diseases.”