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Swiss Firm, May & Baker Partner on Rapid Genetic Test for Ebola

As Ebola seems to have taken a pandemic toll, a group of Nigerian scientists in Diaspora have been able to validate and adapt a widely published methodology for gene amplification in 30 minutes.

Unlike the current widely used method of detecting Ebola Virus genes called RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction), which requires about four to six hours of tedious laboratory procedures from sample decontamination to RNA extraction to gene amplification monitored in real time or confirmed from gel-electrophoresis; the Bio-innovation method excludes all those long processes to proceed with gene amplification in just one step at a single temperature.  With the use of a water bath or a dry heating block, the Bio-innovation method for the detection of Ebola viral genes in a sample can be achieved in resource-limited laboratories in Africa.

Nigeria has successfully contained its Ebola outbreak since it began in July 2014 – where a traveler from Liberia arrived the country already symptomatic. It led to a total of twenty cases, eight deaths and twelve discharges – among them were people who survived the disease and are now immune against it. Nigeria has not had any new case since September, 2012 and is now being officially declared Ebola free on 20th October, 2014 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

However the epidemic still persists in other West African countries including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra-Leone where the death toll has cumulatively risen to more than four thousand. It is being estimated that the death toll due to Ebola Virus Disease may hit a few millions in early 2015 if not contained in time at those hot zones.

Some of the reasons for Nigeria’s success at containing the Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak among others were attributed to strict adherence to public health protocols on contact tracing and monitoring – and readily available diagnostic points coordinated by two reference laboratories which are situated in academic institutions – LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) and RUN (Redeemers University) respectively. These institutions were able to provide provisional diagnosis by the current gold standard – the RT-PCR method. Though it is such a tedious time-consuming laboratory process, suspected subjects were still being assessed and kept under surveillance through the period of the outbreak in Nigeria.

However, since the outbreak still persists in other West African countries; Nigeria and the rest of Africa may still be at risk - from seemingly innocent asymptomatic subjects that may slip through the ports of entry undetected – just like the case currently being encountered in the USA. The current bio-surveillance measures utilize a questionnaire-based screening tool and a non-contact temperature check to track the onset of symptoms typical for Ebola Virus Disease.    

While the questionnaire-based screening tool is prone to deliberate human errors and a temperature check can only figure out a symptomatic patient at the onset of a high fever; a repeat of the outbreak may be easily replicated at all clear zones in Africa and beyond. But with a rapid genetic test at all ports of entries, all potential – even yet to be symptomatic cases at some points – may be figured out and referred to isolation units for further observation and treatment. Such is the rapid genetic test currently being adapted by some Nigerian scientists.

A group of Nigerian scientists led by Olumide Adenmosun – an alumni of Florida Atlantic University, USA and currently a visiting associate lecturer to Bowen University, Nigeria – is coordinating technical support for the ongoing clinical and research program in Nigeria – together with some other Nigerian scientists and health groups largely involved in the containment of Nigeria’s Ebola outbreak. Olumide has been collaborating with Bioinnovation Solutions, Switzerland – a medical diagnostic company led by Dr. Yemi Adesokan, a Harvard trained scientist – to develop the right testing solution that can be adapted for Nigeria and the rest of West Africa.

In September of this year, Dr. Adesokan jointly with the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) also published a study in PLOS One journal – using genetic sequencing based technologies for the detection of Ebola and Marburg viruses.

With a strong technical support team on ground – the Bioinnovation rapid genetic tests are being proposed for use at all ports of entry and equally at secondary and tertiary health care institutions to keep up with biosurveillance especially during this period of the year when cross-border travel peaks.

Each test kit will be able to run 48 samples quite easily with no need for expert training or acquisition of next-gen sequencing or amplification equipment. The access point for the test kits in Nigeria will be through May & Baker – in the coming weeks.   This exciting collaboration involving Nigerian scientists will truly help Nigeria #ToRemainEbolaFree.

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