"With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for."
Well, well; a group of researchers at Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis with funding from NIH just might have found a kind of Philosopher's Stone. From the article below, the technology is already being distributed to clinicians and scientists worldwide for research.
The test will have to be put through more hoops before its accuracy is suffienctly validated to serve as a routine diagnostic tool. The validation process could take several years but as it stands now, we could live to see the dawn of an extraordinary epoch. What's more:
"It also may be possible to modify the test so that it could be used to detect pathogens other than viruses, including bacteria, fungi and other microbes, as well as genes that would indicate the pathogen is resistant to treatment with antibiotics or other drugs" ...September 30, 2015
A new test detects virtually any virus that infects people and animals, according to research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where the technology was developed.
Many thousands of viruses are known to cause illness in people and animals, and making a diagnosis can be an exhaustive exercise, at times requiring a battery of different tests. That's because current tests aren't sensitive enough to detect low levels of viral bugs or are limited to detecting only those viruses suspected of being responsible for a patient's illness.
"With this test, you don't have to know what you're looking for," says the study's senior author, Gregory Storch, MD, the Ruth L. Siteman Professor of Pediatrics. "It casts a broad net and can efficiently detect viruses that are present at very low levels. We think the test will be especially useful in situations where a diagnosis remains elusive after standard testing or in situations in which the cause of a disease outbreak is unknown."
Results published online in September in the journal Genome Research demonstrate that in patient samples the new test - called ViroCap - can detect viruses not found by standard testing based on genome sequencing.
The new test could be used to detect outbreaks of deadly viruses such as Ebola, Marburg and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), as well as more routine viruses, including rotavirus and norovirus, both of which cause severe gastrointestinal infections.
The test sequences and detects viruses in patient samples and is just as sensitive as the gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays, which are used widely in clinical laboratories. However, even the most expansive PCR assays can only screen for up to about 20 similar viruses at the same time.
The Washington University researchers are making the technology they developed publicly available to scientists and clinicians worldwide, for the benefit of patients and research.
[...]The rest of the article outlines how the test was developed and examines a few more medical implications of the breakthrough, although the implications are so many they can scarcely be imagined.
However, one thing can be imagined: how the test will change the practice of medicine. Already there are many types of home diagnostic kits that can be used by laypersons. Slowly but inexorably we're becoming our own doctors. ********