Pentagon Virus Detector Knows You’re Sick Before You Do

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Since 2006, Pentagon-funded researchers at Duke have been hunting for a genetic signature that can assess, before symptoms appear, whether someone’s been infected with a virus:

Healthy participants were exposed to three different viral strains. Their blood, saliva and urine were then tested for “viral specific signatures,” that would characterize illness.

“Traditionally, we’ve diagnosed these conditions by testing for the actual pathogen, but that’s a slow process and it’s not effective until you’re already symptomatic,” Ginsburg told Danger Room. “To look at the actual host response instead is a really novel approach.”
Not only have they found a specific genetic signature that indicates viral infection, but the team has concluded that viruses and bacterial infections trigger different genes. Which means physicians could one day know whether to prescribe antibiotics, which can treat bacteria but not viruses.
Ginsburg anticipates a suitcase-sized device in the war-zone within “a couple years,” and says the devices are already showing excellent accuracy 24 hours before an infected patient becomes symptomatic. In an effort to validate the results in a real-world setting, his team has turned to Duke’s campus, using crowded dorms — already human petri dishes of infection — as improvised research labs.

Now, Ginsburg’s biggest concern is that the devices will be ready before the Food and Drug Administration, who’ve yet to establish regulatory benchmarks for genetic tests, knows what to do with them.

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