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MIT develops new Ebola testing method

Members of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) have developed a thin paper strip that can detect the Ebola virus in ten minutes when exposed to a sample of a patient’s blood, an improvement over previous methods that took days and required a laboratory setting.

The technology will allow health care workers to test for Ebola quickly in the field. Getting a reading is easy: the paper simply changes color if the patient is infected.

Many news outlets have praised the IMES team’s work, a product of the efforts of postdocs, instructors, and visiting scientists. An article published in Forbes predicted that the newly developed technology, which costs only $2 per test and requires little training to administer, could be a “game changer” in the West African struggle against Ebola.

The project’s lead researchers remarked that the silver nanoparticle-based strip makes an Ebola test as quick as an in-home pregnancy test. Moreover, the strip simultaneously tests for dengue and yellow fever.

Senior author Lee Gehrke said that their work could be applied to future outbreaks. “[W]e’re thinking about what’s coming next. There will undoubtedly be other viral outbreaks. It might be Sudan virus, it might be another hemorrhagic fever. What we’re trying to do is develop the antibodies needed to be ready for the next outbreak.”

—William Rodriguez