Trial Of 15-Minute Ebola Test To Start in Guinea

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A billboard with a message about Ebola is seen on a street in Conakry, Guinea October 26, 2014. REUTERS

A portable test that can detect the Ebola virus in blood and saliva samples within 15 minutes will go through a trial run in coming weeks in Guinea, one of the three countries affected by the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, researchers announced Friday.

The 15-minute test is roughly six times faster than currently available technologies. The trial will help researchers establish if the test can be scaled up and used more widely, according to the Wellcome Trust, a charity that is funding work on the test together with the British government.

The trial will also examine the safety and efficacy of the test. The prototype technology is about the size of a suitcase, making it smaller and more portable than existing technologies for testing Ebola; one oft-used current method involves using a PCR machine that is about twice the size of a desktop PC.

The test is also solar-powered and can work at room temperature, whereas existing methods often require cool temperatures that are hard to come by in the affected countries in West Africa, the statement noted.

"This pilot study is particularly promising because researchers have considered how to make the test suitable for use in remote field hospitals, where resources, such as electricity and cold storage, are often in short supply," said Val Snewin, a scientist with the Wellcome Trust.

Researchers did not specify how long the pilot study, which will be conducted in Guinea's capital Conakry, will take. The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 5,600 people in West Africa, according to the CDC, including 1,260 people in Guinea alone.

Like existing technologies, the new test works by searching for Ebola's genetic material. Faster diagnosis could save lives by allowing health workers to more quickly isolate infected patients, Snewin said. It could also prevent unaffected people with false-positives (for example, somebody with a fever from an unrelated condition) from traveling to an Ebola clinic where they might be at risk of being infected.