Ebola Test Kit Developed

Michael Weilert MD Diagnostics in a Suitcase

The developers of the Diagnostics-in-a-Suitcase kit, Ahmed Abd El Wahed (L) and Christiane Stahl-Hennig (R)

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has led to German researchers developing a fast, cheap and accurate test to be performed in patient-care settings without a centralized medical laboratory.  In the parts of West Africa hit hardest by Ebola, a lack of electricity, reliable cold storage and diagnostic equipment pose as major obstacles for technicians trying to test patients for Ebola.  However, a new test developed by researchers at the German Primate Center (DPZ) cuts the time to answer an Ebola diagnosis to just 15 minutes.  This method requires no electricity, and is even portable.  Before this, the fastest Ebola diagnostics tests would take three hours to get results, and required transporting samples to distant medical laboratories.

This Diagnostics-in-a-Suitcase kit is a complete field diagnostics laboratory, developed by infectious disease researcher Ahmed Abd El Wahed and Christiane Stahl-Hennig, head of the DPZ Unit of Infection Models.  This early detection of Ebola, Stahl-Hennig pointed out, will lead to a much more effective virus control now that the medical staff can identify and isolate confirmed Ebola cases more quickly.  In remote field hospitals, resources such as electricity and cold storage can be hard to come by, meaning that this Diagnostics-in-a-Suitcase kit can help contribute to a more effective management of the Ebola outbreak.

The DPZ kit uses Recombinase Polymerase Amplification (RPA) technology to detect Ebola.  RPA test kits surpass the Ebola detection capabilities of several earlier developments, including the Roche LightMix Ebola Zaire rRT-PCR Test and the US Navy’s test technology developed for use at a new lab in Monrovia, Liberia.  The Roche test gets results in three hours, while the US Navy tech takes three to five hours to get results.  Both of these tests use a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique to detect and amplify Ebola’s unique RNA.  This test requires blood samples to be collected in the field and then transported long distances to a clinical laboratory, which presents safety issues.

The Diagnostic-in-a-Suitcase test contains all reagents and equipment necessary for detecting the Ebola virus at point-of-need.  It operates on an integrated solar panel and power pack, allowing it to be utilized without the need of electricity.  Since it can be utilized in the field, it eliminates the risk of transporting Ebola specimens over long distances.  RPA tests are just as accurate as PCR-based tests, and work at a constant temperature, eliminating the need of heat-cycling equipment.  In addition, reagents from the RPA tests are cold chain independent, allowing them to be used and transported at ambient temperatures.  The test kit is currently in field trials in Guinea, with Pathologists eagerly waiting to see how it goes.