Duke scientists develop test identifying viral infections before symptoms show up

Posted at 9:21 PM, Sep 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-29 07:58:10-04

NORFOLK, Va. - News 3 talked with Duke scientists who have developed a test that can accurately find viral infections before symptoms show up.

News 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light calls the test a “game changer.”

“I think it's coming around about the right time,” Light said. “It would be great to be able to test someone and test them positive for something prior to the symptoms showing up.”

Duke officials said the blood-based test correctly predicts nine different respiratory viral infections, including the flu and coronaviruses known to cause common colds.

“What was unique about this study was for the first time we were able to show we could utilize these biomarkers to identify individuals before they became sick,” Dr. Micah McClain, Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine said.

Dr. McClain is the primary author on the published study.

“We wanted to explore if we can identify some of these immune system signals in the blood of patients after they've been exposed to a virus but before they feel sick so we can identify them at a very early time, much earlier than currently available tests,” McClain told News 3.

According to Dr. McClain, the test involves taking a small sample of blood and looking to find what sort of genes are turned on and off in white blood cells.

“By the relative ratios of the types of genes that are turned on in their own white blood cells, we could identify which sort of infection is present,” McClain added.

McClain said the test received federal funding and is not widely available to general public. While their study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, McClain said they're testing to see its reaction to COVID-19.

“We're hopeful, as we begin to study how well a test like this works in COVID-19, we can begin to find a niche for it as an adjunct diagnostic and support our national efforts with the current pandemic,” he said.

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For Dr. Light, he believes this test could provide an extra tool for their playbook.

“Hopefully we can use it in the future so that we can prevent the antibiotic resistance, as well as tell you what you actually have when you come into the doctor's office so that you know which virus you have and how to treat it,” Light said.

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