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Rapid-detection Ebola test developed by Scottish university scientist

Friday 24th May 2019
A saliva test has been developed by a scientist at the University of Stirling that has the ability to detect Ebola quicker than previous options.
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The Ebola virus has the potential to spread very quickly from patient to patient, and therefore has caused outbreaks in the past, particularly in several African countries. To prevent these outbreaks, rapid detection of the virus is essential. This is what Dr Manfred Weidmann from the University of Stirling’s School of Natural Sciences has been working on.

Dr Weidmann has developed a new test for the Ebola virus that can be conducted quickly in the field, without the need for elaborate equipment. In fact, everything required can fit inside a suitcase-sized mobile laboratory, making it suitable for deployment in rural Africa at a relatively low cost.

The test requires a simple saliva sample, which is then subjected to a process called recombinase polymerase amplification. This was trialled on 928 samples, which revealed not only that it works as a method of rapidly detecting the Ebola virus, but also that it performs well under field conditions. 

As a result, three mobile laboratories that make use of the test have been deployed in Senegal and Guinea. Dr Weidmann believes these will be more suitable than some of the other methods that are being pushed in the region. He said: “There has been a huge push for robotic testing systems, but they are difficult to establish and expensive to maintain. 

“Our project has successfully developed and deployed a low cost mobile laboratory using a rapid, highly sensitive and specific assay which can be stored at room temperature and operated by local teams with its own energy supply.”

In total, there are over 25 laboratories working on this in West Africa alone, and many of them use different tests. However, Dr Weidmann’s has been favourably compared to two of them, and it appears to outperform one widely used by the World Health Organisation. There is therefore a possibility that his test will become more widespread in the region, due to its advantages.

Written by Martin Lambert

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