DIAGNOSTICS FOR EMERGING VIRUSES
The goal of this project is to develop low cost rapid point-of-care diagnostics to detect and distinguish viral infections. A problem with distinguishing many viral infections is that the clinical symptoms are often similar: fever, headache, joint pain, rash, etc. Optimal clinical care is enhanced by defining the specific pathogen, and rapid diagnostics are often not available. In 2017, we published a paper in Science Translational Medicine showing the development of inexpensive rapid diagnostics that detect and distinguish the four Dengue virus serotypes, as well as Zika virus. Prototype devices have been manufactured as shown in the image (left), and a startup company, E25Bio, has been launched to enable manufacturing and distribution of the detection devices.
The Gehrke laboratory is continuing with research and development to further improve the potential for detecting and identifying viral illnesses in infected humans. Viruses will continue to emerge unexpectedly as human health problems. A goal of our work with diagnostics is to convert our current reactive response (i.e. deal with the problem after it has emerged) to a proactive response (i.e. deal with the problem before it emerges). Problems with the proactive approach include 1) we can't accurately predict which virus will emerge next, and 2) it is very expensive to develop the reagents for diagnostic devices, such that they could be prepared in advance.
We are exploring new methods for the inexpensive production of antibody reagents that can be used in low-cost paperfluidic diagnostic devices. For example, camelids and sharks produce "single chain antibodies" that can potentially be produced at lower costs than the common monoclonal antibodies that are more expensive. A goal of our current work is to lower the cost of producing diagnostics to a point where it is possible to prepare them in advance of a potential outbreak. These diagnostic devices would also be useful for disease surveillance, where patients are tested routinely for panels of viruses as a early warning signal that can be accompanied by public health responses to limit a potential viral disease outbreak.