Harvard scientists have developed a paper device with biology-based sensors that can quickly diagnose the Zika virus. The development could be incredibly valuable in parts of the world where Zika is spreading quickly and healthcare workers have to wait weeks to confirm whether someone has contracted the dangerous condition.
The Wyss Institute at Harvard University developed a cartridge with paper strips coded with a synthetic network of genes that react to the presence of certain microbes. A color change, visible to the naked eye, takes place if the RNA sequence associated with Zika is detected. The whole process takes place within two to three hours. As it stands right now, healthcare workers must rely on blood samples to test for Zika, and results can take days or weeks to return. Current tests also cannot distinguish between Zika and dengue – but Harvard’s technology can. The tool can also detect the virus in samples of urine and saliva, as well as blood.
These updated methods can drastically improve efforts to curb the spread of the virus. Other researchers are finding ways to interrupt the escalating health hazard, including releasing bacteria-infected mosquitos known to render Zika-carrying insects ineffective at spreading the disease. Harvard’s paper-strip innovation will hopefully get troubled areas one step closer to eliminating this nasty bug and the mosquitos it rode in on.
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