The Texas Biomedical Research Institute has had a breakthrough when it comes to being able to identify cases of the Ebola virus in order to prevent potential outbreaks. San Antonio scientists have been able to locate a unique component to the Ebola virus that makes it possible for a simple test to be administered which would allow them to know whether they are dealing with a true Ebola infection, or something else.
Typically it is very difficult to make a conclusive judgement when it comes to identifying viruses. One looks much like another, and symptoms can easily be misread. This can either lead to an unfounded panic from an incorrect diagnosis of a deadly virus like Ebola, or it can allow a single infected patient turn into a full-blown outbreak. Using this new method, scientists are confident they can create a way for doctor’s to know determinately whether or not they are dealing with the virus.
During a screening process performed by Texas Biomed virologist Andrew Hayhurst, Ph.D. And his assistant Laura Jo Sherwood, they found that hiding within Ebola is a polymer called nucleoprotein (NP).
Using llama antibodies – which are precisely what they sound like: antibodies taken from the animal – they discovered that they could easily find the NP polymer. Meaning that if NP was present, they knew they were dealing with Ebola. If it wasn’t, they could be almost certain they were not.
“Ebola NP is rather like a cob of corn displaying hundreds of kernels linked in a repetitive polymer, giving us the perfect molecular magnet to attract llama antibodies that can be assembled into highly avid assays based on a single antibody,” said Dr. Hayhurst.
The project is still in it’s infancy, but could mean another diagnostic tool for the medical community. Ebola is one of the terrifying viral demons that, were it ever to be weaponized, could be very difficult to contain or combat. It could be turned into one of the most deadly, and destructive biological weapons on the planet. By being able to allow first responders and doctors in emergency rooms to be able to determine whether or not they are dealing with Ebola could alert the global community to bioterrorism attacks. Or prevent unnecessary panic.
Even without the frightening overtones of biological warfare, the ability to allow principle physicians a way to rule Ebola out during the diagnostic process would avoid misdiagnoses and limit the possibility of a dangerous contagion being exposed to the populace at large.