Detecting Ebola

An international team of researchers, including Ahmed Abd El Wahed, scientists at the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center have tested a novel method for efficiently diagnosing Ebola in a field trial in Guinea. The ideology is that of a ‘solar-powered mobile suitcase laboratory’ that will help diagnose cases of Ebola on-site in remote areas without the need for intricate equipment.

Details Of The Field Study: Detecting Ebola

The field study was conducted in Guinea from March to May 2015. It involved collecting and analyzing oral swabs from people suspected of having died from Ebola. The new technique of detection (RPA) was compared with the two variations of a presently available diagnostic method, known as real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

“We were able to determine two things – RPA works very well with oral swab samples, significantly simplifying future sampling methods (faster and less complicated), and RPA is as sensitive and specific as the gold standard, along with being much simpler than the real-time PCR methods”, explained Ahmed Abd El Wahed, presently in the Department of Microbiology and Animal Hygiene at the University of Göttingen and a guest scientist at the German Primate Center.

Accuracy, Reliability and Ease

Of the 928 samples tested with RPA, 120 were positive and 808 were negative. Interestingly, the RT-PCR method gave the exact same results, indicating 100 percent accuracy. Moreover, the scientists observed that RPA was even better than a currently approved real-time PCR method for the detection of Ebola by the WHO.

Both, RT-PCR and RPA work by identifying viral RNA in serum or oral swabs of infected individuals. As compared to RT-PCR, the reagent for RPA can be shipped, stored and used at temperatures of up to 38 degrees (cold-chain independent). The reaction requires a total of 30 minutes, whereas RT-PCR could take several hours.

“In order to improve the control of an Ebola epidemic, we must be able to identify infections on-site as early as possible” highlighted Abd El Wahed.

The Solar Powered Suitcase

In a previous project, Abd El Wahed, Manfred Weidmann and Frank Hufert of the former Department of Virology of the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) developed a portable laboratory suitcase, especially for crisis areas. The latter contains all the required reagents and equipment necessary for detecting Ebola virus via RPA. What’s note-worthy is that the suitcase can work up to 16 hours on solar power. A mobile glove box grants extra protection against infection from contaminated samples.

“Speed, accuracy and ease of use are three important criteria that we were able to achieve with this new method. Hence, this procedure could contribute immensely to the management of future Ebola outbreaks”, concluded Abd El Wahed.

As a future prospect, the kit may also be used for identifying other viral infections, such as Dengue, Chikungunya and the Rift Valley fever virus. Results of the field study are published in the journal Eurosurveillance.