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Loyola Research Paves Way for Simple Test for Ebola Virus

Existing tests for the deadly virus are inaccurate, expensive and can be challenging to administer, but new research from Loyola University Chicago could lead to a simple filter paper test that changes color if Ebola is present.

The breakthrough is possible thanks to the discovery of two antibodies to the deadly virus and the related Marburg virus by Loyola University Chicago professors Ravi Durvasula and Adinarayana Kunamneni.

Ebola and Marburg viruses can cause severe bleeding and organ failure, with fatality rates reaching as high as 90% in some outbreaks, according to researchers. Major Ebola outbreaks in West Africa from 2013 to 2016 resulted in more than 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no cure or vaccine to treat the diseases.

Both viruses spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person, monkey, gorilla, chimpanzee or bat. Early symptoms of the diseases mimic that of common diseases, including fever, headache and diarrhea, making the need for a rapid diagnostic test critical, say researchers. Such a test could help curb outbreaks by quickly quarantining infected individuals, but current diagnostic tests are either inaccurate or expensive and require extensive training to administer, according to researchers who say antibodies could be the key to diagnosis.

An antibody is a Y-shaped protein made by the immune system that destroys viruses or pathogens when they invade the body. Using a technology called cell-free ribosome display, researchers generated two synthetic antibodies that bind to all four known types of Ebola and two known types of Marburg viruses, according to a Loyola press release.

Actual viruses were not used in the study, so there was no risk of infection to researchers or the public. Instead, researchers used nonhazardous proteins that sit on the surface of Ebola and Marburg viruses, according to a press release.

Researchers say further study is needed to validate the antibodies’ diagnostic potential. Kunamneni and Durvasula published their findings in the “American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene,” with co-authors Elizabeth Clarke, Chunyan Ye and Steven Bradfute of the University of New Mexico.

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