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Health/Science/Tech

San Antonio Researcher Helps Develop Experimental Zika Test

An optofluidic chip screens bodily fluids for the presence of Zika virus, allowing doctors to pinpoint how long a patient has had it.
An optofluidic chip screens bodily fluids for the presence of Zika virus, allowing doctors to pinpoint how long a patient has had it.

A Texas Biomedical Research Institutescientist is helping develop a test for the Zika virusthat has been called “a lab on a chip.”

The new technology uses fluid and tools including lasers to look at molecules on a small chip to quickly learn several things, according to Texas Biomed scientist Jean Patterson, who is contributing to the device’s development.

"One: to rule out other viruses they suspect might be involved so then you can sort of pinpoint what the person might have,” Patterson said. “Secondly, it can identify where you are in the infection so you could identify whether antivirals would be recommended and you could also determine if immunotherapy might be an appropriate course of treatment."

The fluid, called optofluidics, is a process in which a scientist takes bodily fluids that might be infected with various viruses, puts them on a chip, then uses tools like optical waveguides and lasers to evaluate the sample.

The test can also tell if a person has Zika antibodies, Patterson said, meaning they've already been exposed to the mosquito-borne illness and are not at risk.

"That would be of great interest to physicians who are looking at a pregnant womanand she has symptoms. They can immediately determine whether she's already had an infection by Zika," Patterson added.

Pregnant women who have not been exposed to Zika and who get it during pregnancy are at a much greater risk of delivering babies who have devastating birth defects, like microcephaly.

A collaboration of scientists began developing this technology two years ago, and involves researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Brigham Young University, and the University of California at Berkeley, in addition to researchers at Texas Biomed. Electrical engineering Professor Holger Schmidtof UC Santa Cruz has described the device as "a lab on a chip."

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Bonnie Petrie can be reached at bonnie@tpr.org or on Twitter @kbonniepetrie

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