Researchers have developed a DNA-based blood test that can determine a person’s viral history, a development they hope could lead to early detection of conditions, such as hepatitis C, and eventually help explain what triggers certain autoimmune diseases and cancers.
The new test, known as VirScan, works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. The immune system, which churns out specific antibodies when it encounters a virus, can continue to produce those antibodies decades after an infection subsides. VirScan detects those antibodies and uses them as a window in time to create a blueprint of nearly every virus an individual has encountered. It’s a dramatic alternative to existing diagnostic tools, which test only for a single suspected virus.
“The approach is clever and a technological tour de force,” said Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University, who was not involved in the creation of VirScan. “It has the potential to reveal viruses people have encountered recently or many years earlier … Thus, this is a powerful new research tool.”
Scientists reported intriguing findings from their initial tests of 569 people they screened using VirScan in the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. They found that the average person has been exposed to 10 of the 206 different species of known viruses — though some people showed exposure to more than double that number.
“Many of those [people] have probably been infected with many different strains of the same virus,” said Stephen Elledge, a professor of genetics and medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who led the development of VirScan. “You could be infected with many strains of rhinovirus over the course of your life, for instance, and it would show up as one hit.”
Source: The Independent