A new blood test that can identify about 1,000 viruses that ever reached an individual's blood stream is said to change how the current system of medicine works. If the method, which is still under research, will commence successfully, transmission rates of infectious diseases without initial apparent clinical manifestations may be reduced.
Named as VirScan, the new technology claims that with a single drop of blood, experts can determine all the viruses that a person ever had. The individual findings are said to provide valuable insights about how the identified viruses affect the immune system responses and potentially add to the future occurrence of chronic diseases and cancer. The technology can also help in the field of research as it may determine the patterns of disease developments across races and populations in the entire age spectrum.
When a person contracts a virus, the immune system releases white blood cells (WBC) to combat the foreign substance. Specialized WBC called T and B lymphocytes not only fight viruses, but also remember their characteristics. They carry the memory of the destroyed viruses so they will know how to attack once the same pathogens enter the body again. VirScan works by searching for the imprints made by the immune system as they encounter different viruses throughout an individual's lifetime.
Stephen Elledge, study author and professor of genetics and medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, says that incorporating VirScan in routine checkups will enable medical practitioners to detect diseases that can potentially aggravate and become severe if diagnosed at a later time. Doctors can now start to prescribe preventive measures to patients even if they are still asymptomatic. In this way, the aggravation of disease processes may be halted and possibly be ceased completely. This is where "prevention is better than cure," becomes very applicable.
Doctors may also start curative therapies for diseases that are hard to treat during its late pathological phases. For example, Hepatitis C has good prognosis if detected and treated early. But because this disease does not become apparent at once, most patients suffer from the aggravated infection.
Elledge also mentions that VirScan can help to determine how viruses and immune system responses affect the mechanisms of other diseases. He explains that the responses of study subjects with HIV are notably more profound than expected, given that HIV destroys the immune system. This implies that unknown and complex reactions, between viruses and diseases may be present.
"There are a number of diseases that could be initiated by a viral infection, so it's an interesting idea to have a patient come in with a disease and say, let's take a look at what viruses they've been exposed to," Elledge says.
Historical patterns of diseases may also be possible through the VirScan. Researchers suggest that this can be carried out by testing frozen blood samples used from previous studies. With this, diseases and its mechanisms may be studied in a holistic and time-sensitive perspective.
"While not perfect, we think this method represents a very large step forward toward the goal of comprehensive analysis of viral infections," Elledge admits.
Scientists and doctors are quite excited about this scientific revolution as well. For example, a professor of microbiology and medicine and co-director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York named Adolfo Garcia-Sastre tells the New York Times that the new discovery is "really amazing."
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