The VirScan blood test, developed by scientists from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, makes it possible to detect over 1,000 different strains of viruses in the virome — the vast array of all the viruses that inhabit a particular person — thus an ideal alternative for current diagnostic tests that targets specific viruses one at a time.
The description of the research and report of its findings have been published in the June 5 issue of the journal Science.
“We’ve developed a screening methodology to basically look back in time in people’s [blood] sera and see what viruses they have experienced,” says Stephen J. Elledge, the Gregor Mendel professor of genetics and of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of the research. “Instead of testing for one individual virus at a time, which is labor intensive, we can assay all of these at once. It’s one-stop shopping.”
Some of the viruses can hide inside the body for years in an inactive state, long after the initial infection has been removed, however, for some reasons they might reactivate and cause grave problems for their human hosts. Others my enter body without showing detectable symptoms for some time. For these reasons, it is very important to know the viruses to which a patient has been exposed throughout his or her life.
By diagnosing whether an individual was infected with a dangerous virus years before, physicians can begin treatments early, Elledge further added.
“This [test] could be very valuable… What this allows you to do is look into the past and measure a person’s exposure to previous infections. That has important advantages, because you can detect these infections that go to latency. You could screen blood from patients and organ donors in this very broad manner and predict potential future issues with viral reactivation,” said Iwijn De Vlaminck, a biomedical engineer at Cornell University in New York.
Blood samples for the research were collected from 569 donors from four countries — United States, Peru, South Africa, and Thailand. Researchers discovered that people in each country had been infected with a unique array of about 10 viruses.
The new comprehensive test can be performed for as low as $25 per blood sample.