Now, a DNA-based blood test, can determine a person's entire viral history, revealed Columbia University researchers. This new test can lead to early detection of conditions, such as hepatitis C, and eventually help explain what triggers certain autoimmune diseases and cancers. The test, known as VirScan, works by screening the blood for antibodies against any of the 206 species of viruses known to infect humans.
The immune system churns out specific antibodies when it encounters a virus. It can continue to produce those antibodies decades after an infection subsides. VirScan test detects those antibodies and uses them as a window in time to create a blueprint of nearly every virus an individual has encountered.
It is a dramatic alternative to existing diagnostic tools, which test only for a single suspected virus. Researcher Ian Lipkin said, "The approach is clever and a technological tour de force. It has the potential to reveal viruses people have encountered recently or many years earlier, thus, this is a powerful new research tool."
During the study, scientists found that an average person is exposed to 10 of the 206 different species of known viruses, though some people showed exposure to more than double that number. Study leader Stephen Elledge said, "Many of those people have probably been infected with many different strains of the same virus. People could be infected with many strains of rhinovirus over the course of your life, for instance, and it would show up as one hit. The VirScan analysis currently can be performed for about 25 dollars per blood sample, though labs might charge much more than that if the test becomes commercially available. It currently takes two or three days to process and sequence about 100 samples, though that speed could increase as technology improves."
The study appears in Science.