Harvard Professor Develops Fast, Cheap Prototype Ebola Test

Jim Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard’s Wyss Institute, said he and his team created the test in 12 hours, using just $20 of materials.

by Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald (TNS) / October 28, 2014

A Harvard researcher and his team have developed a prototype Ebola test that could detect the virus in 30 minutes and cost less than $1 to reproduce.

Jim Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, said he and his team created the test in 12 hours, using just $20 of materials.

“We’re keen to see if we can move the technology out into the field to address the (Ebola) crisis,” Collins said.

The test takes molecules inside a cell drawn from a saliva or blood sample and then drops them on a pocket-sized piece of paper that contains freeze-dried biosensors — molecular switches that are activated in the presence of molecules of the Ebola virus. If, after 30 minutes, the paper turns from yellow to purple, the sample is positive for Ebola.

Collins said the team still has to ensure a low false-positive rate with the test and make it more sensitive so that it would work even with a smaller amount of viral molecules before it will be ready to be field-tested.

“I do feel this has great potential, using really low-cost materials,” said Lingchong You, an expert in cellular reprogramming at Duke University.

Currently, the “gold-standard” test for Ebola is RT-PCR, or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, which is very sensitive and highly specific, meaning that it does not produce false positives, said John Connor, a researcher at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories. However, it takes about four hours to produce results, Connor said. The test reportedly costs anywhere from $60 to $200.

©2014 the Boston Herald