A new DNA-based test may be able to detect a person’s entire viral history by analyzing a single drop of blood. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School believe that VirScan will help lead to early detection of illnesses like hepatitis C, while also opening the door to finding a possible explanation for what triggers autoimmune diseases, the Washington Post reported.
VirScan screens the blood for antibodies against the 206 species of viruses known to affect humans, the report said. When the body’s immune system detects a virus, it creates specific antibodies that it then continues to produce for decades. VirScan identifies them and uses it as a blueprint to compile a list of viruses a person has contracted, The Washington Post reported.
Researchers published their results Thursday in the journal Science. The study involved 569 people in the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. Through VirScan, researchers found the average person had been exposed to 10 of the 206 species of viruses, while others should exposure to closer to 20.
“Many of those [people] have probably been infected with many different strains of the same virus,” lead developer Stephen Elledge, a professor of genetics and medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told the Washington Post. “You could be infected with many strains of rhinovirus over the course of your life, for instance, and it would show up as one hit.” They also found differing results depending on geographical location.
Elledge also told the Washington Post that the results showed certain viruses were more common in adults than children. VirScan also detected that people infected with HIV had more antibodies against more viruses than others. Elledge said one hope is for VirScan to be able to help detect illnesses like HIV and hepatitis C which patients may harbor for years before experiencing any symptoms.
Researchers also believe VirScan may help determine what kind of role viruses play in later development of autoimmune diseases, The Washington Post reported.
Elledge said the VirScan analysis is currently available for $25, but the price may increase if it becomes commercially available. Patients can expect their results within two to three days.