Japanese researchers say they have developed a new test for Ebola that would speed up diagnosis. (AFP)

New Ebola test could diagnose infection sooner

Japanese researchers have developed a new test for Ebola, which they say is quicker and cheaper than the current method used.

Professor Jiro Yasuda and his team at Nagasaki University in Japan say their process is cheaper than the system currently in use in West Africa, where the virus has already killed more than 1 500 people.

"The new method is simpler than the current one and can be used in countries where expensive testing equipment is not available," Yasuda told Agence France-Presse by telephone. "We have yet to receive any questions or requests, but we are pleased to offer the system, which is ready to go," he said.

Amplifying Ebola-specific genes
Yasuda said the team had developed what he called a "primer", which amplifies only those genes specific to the Ebola virus found in a blood sample or other bodily fluid. Using existing techniques, ribonucleic acid (RNA) – biological molecules used in the coding of genes – is extracted from any viruses present in a blood sample. 

This is then used to synthesise the viral DNA, which can be mixed with the primers and then heated to 60°C to 65°C. If Ebola is present, DNA specific to the virus is amplified in 30 minutes due to the action of the primers. The by-products from the process cause the liquid to become cloudy, providing visual confirmation, Yasuda said.

Currently, a method called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is widely used to detect the Ebola virus, which requires doctors to heat and cool samples repeatedly and takes up to two hours. 

"The new method only needs a small, battery-powered warmer and the entire system costs just tens of thousands of yen, which developing countries should be able to afford," he added. 

The outbreak of the Ebola virus, transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, has sparked alarm throughout Western Africa and further afield.

Different strains of Ebola
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) Health Minister Felix Kabange Numbi recently confirmed the seventh outbreak of the virus in the DRC, where the virus was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River. 

But he said the two new cases had "no link to [the epidemic] raging in West Africa" and were different strains from one another. Over a week ago, Britain’s first Ebola patient, a nurse who also contracted the disease in Sierra Leone, was evacuated to London. – AFP

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