New technology developed by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers makes it possible to test for current and past infections with any known human virus by analyzing a single drop of a person's blood. The method, called VirScan, is an efficient alternative to existing diagnostics that test for specific viruses one at a time, according to the scientists.
With VirScan, researchers can run a single test to determine which viruses have infected an individual, rather than limiting their analysis to particular viruses.
That unbiased approach could uncover unexpected factors affecting individual patients' health, and also expands opportunities to analyze and compare viral infections in large populations. The analysis reportedly can be performed for about $25 per blood sample.
VirScan works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans. The immune system produces pathogen-specific antibodies when it encounters a virus for the first time, and it can continue to make those antibodies for years or decades after it clears an infection. That means VirScan not only identifies viral infections that the immune system is actively fighting, but also provides a history of an individual's past infections.