larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next
by Larry

February, 2015

Ebola Scanner

"Beam me up, Scotty!" I know we do not live in a sci-fi realm, yet it definitely has that feel for me when I hear about a new device for use in the fight against certain diseases, the Gene Radar, designed and patented by Nanobiosyms.

Whereas up till now Ebola patients, for instance, were not showing symptoms for weeks after first being infected and meanwhile might be moving from areas of high Ebola incidence to those as yet unaffected, where unknowingly they could spread the contagion undetected, now a mobile device has the promise to be used for relatively light speed diagnosis using only a single drop of blood or saliva from potential Ebola victims.

Lt. Commander Data, Star Trek The Next Generation (Wikipedia)
The process is not only time saving, and likely to radically reduce the spread of infection, as people from high risk areas are screened before being allowed into low incidence regions, but also could be much less expensive than heretofore available means of screening for Ebola, HIV, or influenza. The Gene Radar promises to analyze and report on single drops of sample liquid in under an hour. Applications might eventually be available for smart phones and other mobile devices. Approval has been sought from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile other companies are rushing to create and gain approval for other time, money, and life saving gadgets for detecting Ebola viruses.

One recent development that has been approved by the World Health Organization is a 15-minute blood screener for Ebola, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test. Similar to a pregnancy test, it involves placing a drop of blood from the potential victim on a piece of paper. If two lines show up, the test is considered positive. Unfortunately, unlike the claims for the Gene Radar device, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test is not terribly reliable, having both false positives and a failure to detect Ebola in some 8% of cases when it has been used. So, while it is an improvement over several weeks of waiting for a relatively expensive confirmation of an Ebola diagnosis, it is far from being ideal. Moreover, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test as yet must be used in a quarantine setting and with the tester wearing substantial and cumbersome protective gear. Even after use of the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test, health workers would need to follow-up with more standard, expensive, and time-consuming tests.

All in all, then, there is great hope for the Nanobiosyms Gene Radar or another, similar design screener to be in practical use before long.

Primary sources:

15-Minute Ebola Test Approved for Fighting The Epidemic. Michaeleen Doucleff in NPR; 2/20/2015;

When Just One Drop IS Enough. in Amicus ITS Blog; 2/20/2015.

larvalbug bytes archives / Main Index / previous / next