Bioethics Blogs

Shining Light on Ebola Virus for Faster Diagnosis

Caption: A rapid Ebola detection system consisting of a microfluidic chip (left) and an optofluidic chip (right), connected by a curved tube (center).
Credit: Joshua Parks, University of California, Santa Cruz

Many lessons were learned during last year’s devastating outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa. A big one is that field clinics operating in remote settings desperately need a simple, rapid, and accurate test that can tell doctors on the spot—with just a drop of blood—whether or not a person has an active Ebola infection.

A number of point-of-care tests are under development, and it’s exciting to see them moving in the right direction to fill this critical need [1]. As a recent example, a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports by a team of NIH-supported researchers and colleagues shows early success in rapid Ebola detection with an automated lab on a chip [2]. The hybrid system, which combines microfluidics for sample preparation with optofluidics for viral detection, identifies Ebola at concentrations that are typically seen in the bloodstream of an infected person. It also distinguishes between Ebola and the related Marburg and Sudan viruses, suggesting it could be used to detect other infectious diseases.

Most lab-on-a-chip technologies must squeeze the necessary biology, chemistry, and electronics into just a few millimeters of real estate. It can be a really tight fit. What’s cool about this device engineered by a multidisciplinary team of scientists—led by NIH grantee Holger Schmidt at the University of California, Santa Cruz—is it’s a two-chip system. The chips are connected and can be either stacked or placed side by side.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.