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New Development Aids in Ebola Detection

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Detecting Ebola with the naked eye is now possible due to a method developed by a University at Albany research team.

The new method means a cost-effective, quick, and easy way to detect Ebola. With the method, detection results occur within an hour or two and could cost just $1 per person, according to Mehmet Yigit, the chemistry professor leading the research team at the RNA Institute.  

Yigit aims to produce a kit that would allow screening for a big population more effectively than current methods, which can take weeks or months and cost thousands of dollars.

In developing the method, Yigit used urine samples instead of blood because they are more easily accessible. The team placed substances that indicate disease—biomarkers—into the urine to mimic a real-life Ebola scenario.

Then, a small particle called a gold nanoparticle, binds to these biomarkers until they grow bigger and change color. If the color is red, that indicates the Ebola virus is present. If it is purple, there is no infection.

The team’s method included nanotechnology—manipulating small particles.

Even with this developed method, producing the kit would require partnering with a commercial service.

However, because the team used nanotechnology in the health arena instead of in technology such as cell phones and computers, the stakes are higher.

“There is life at the end of the product,” Yigit said.

That means that it could take years before the kit is commercialized.

The company would first need to see that the research has a patent before they do multiple rounds of testing. The testing would involve mimicked samples of Ebola, and if this is successful they would then test it with real samples of Ebola, which would require more advanced resources.

For testing at UAlbany, Yigit joked, “They would probably prison me if I bring in an Ebola sample here.”

If the tests are successful, the company and the research team would work to establish a design for the kit.

“We showed the potential,” Yigit said about the application to Ebola.

The researcher said it’s now up to other scientists and companies to take an interest in testing and commercializing the kit.

“If they are really interested they will find me and then we can partner with them,” he said.

During experimentation, Yigit and the team purchased biomarkers and human urine, and placed the biomarkers into the urine to create a scenario of Ebola infection.

The largest outbreak of Ebola occurred in West Africa from March 2014 to March 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In total, 11, 325 people died in the outbreak and there were 28,652 suspected, probable, and confirmed cases.

There are five types of Ebola virus, but four of them cause disease in humans, according to the CDC.

Yigit’s favorite part of his work is developing a method that can control one particle for different types of diseases and purposes.

The color-detecting method that Yigit and his team developed determines which type of Ebola there is in a sample. Then they can better pinpoint how to move forward with treatment.  

“I like the fact that I can control a substance for different types of diseases,” Yigit said.

His team included graduate students Mustafa Balcioglu and Muhit Rana. They developed the method over the course of two years, and then it took one year to apply it to the Ebola scenario.

Their findings were published in the online issue of Advanced Healthcare Materials on Jan. 25.

According to Yigit, the method could also potentially apply to Zika.

“I can easily translate it,” he said.

Because the method allows disease detection based on color, researchers can detect disease with the naked eye instead of heavy equipment.

Yigit said the next step may be looking into federal funding to research and experiment in a Zika virus scenario.

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