Dr. Robert Garry is a Tulane professor of microbiology and immunology who also is part of a 200 person team in Sierra Leone, the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium, which is a partnership of research institutes that promotes global health and safety by creating new products to diagnose, treat and reduce rate of viral hemorrhagic fevers.
Over the last few months, Garry has been working with the team to help fight and control the Ebola virus that has affected thousands internationally. They received a $2.9 million grant from the National Health Institute to develop a rapid diagnostic test for the disease.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) is not entirely sure of the exact number of cases, reports, as of October 10th, list 8,376 suspected cases and 4,024 deaths reported, primarily in West Africa.
Garry wants to change the standard procedure for testing for the virus. “The current test requires that you take a tube of blood from a person’s arm, first of all that’s a risk for the person drawing the blood,” he explains. “What our test allows you to do is just use a finger prick; very safe device, small drop of blood, you can put a band-aid over it. You don’t have to expose the person drawing the blood to the risk of a needle or a needle stick. Then you take that small drop of blood, put it on this device, 15 minutes later you have a result.”
At this point in time, patients wait between 24 and 72 hours for test results. Dr. Frank Welch, medical director for community preparedness at the Louisiana Office of Public Health, said that not having to wait would help internationally slow and quell this outbreak exponentially.
If the test works on patients before they show symptoms of the virus, it would allow doctors and nurses to respond more quickly to patients who need to be isolated.