USP Develops Test that Identifies Zika Virus More Accurately

Exam can identify protein that differentiates disease-causing pathogen

Reinaldo José Lopes

USP researchers developed a new test that can identify Zika virus infection with unprecedented accuracy. Thus it will be easier for doctors and public health officials to understand the risks posed by the disease.

"Until today, the biggest problem in coming up with this kind of test was the great similarity between the Zika virus and the dengue proteins. It was very difficult to separate from each other," explained virologist Edison Luiz Durigon, a researcher at ICB- USP (University Institute of Biomedical Sciences).

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Jaqueline Vieira, mother of Daniel, who has microcephaly caused by the Zika virus. (Foto: Heudes Regis/Folhapress) - Folhapress

To work around the problem, the team identified a piece of one of the viral molecules, called NS1 ("non-structural protein 1"), that is different from one virus to another. Thanks to the choice of this target, the test has both an accuracy and sensitivity of 92%. The accuracy of previous tests was 75%.

This means that retesting rarely produces false positives (i.e., incorrectly identifies the presence of the Zika virus) and false negatives (i.e., misses the presence of the Zika virus).

The group filed a patent and will license the test for commercial production by AdvaGen Biotech, from Itu (SP).

Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) already approved the commercialization of kits with 96 tests each. Researchers estimate that the cost per person is around R$ 30, which would enable large-scale use in SUS.

To be approved, the test was used on more than 3,000 women. Women are the technology's primary "target audience" because when mothers contract the virus, sometimes their newborns exhibit microcephaly and other severe nervous system abnormalities.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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