A group of Nigerian scientists in the Diaspora has validated and adapted a widely-published methodology for gene amplification in 30minutes, in order to achieve the detection of Ebola in record time.
Unlike the current, widely used method of detecting Ebola virus genes called RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction), which requires about four to six hours of tedious laboratory procedures from sample decontamination to RNA extraction to gene amplification monitored in real time or confirmed from gel-electrophoresis, the new bioinnovation method excludes all those long processes to proceed with gene amplification in just one step at a single temperature.
“With the use of a water bath or a dry heating block, the Bioinnovation method for the detection of Ebola viral genes in a sample can be achieved in resource-limited laboratories in Africa,” said Olumide Adenmosun, an alumnus of Florida Atlantic University, USA and currently visiting associate lecturer to Bowen University, Nigeria.
Nigeria has successfully contained its Ebola outbreak since Liberian-America Patrick Sawyer introduced it on July 20, arriving at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport already symptomatic.
It led to a total of 20 cases, eight deaths and 12 discharges, among them people who survived the disease and are now immune against it.
Nigeria has not had any new case since September 2014 and was officially declared Ebola-free on Monday October 20, 2014, by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
However, the epidemic still persists in other West African countries, including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra-Leone, where the death toll has cumulatively risen to more than 4,000.
It is being estimated that the death toll due to Ebola Virus Disease may hit a few millions in early 2015 if not contained in time at those hot zones.
Adenmosun attributed some of the reasons for Nigeria’s success at containing Ebola to strict adherence to public health protocols on contact tracing and monitoring, and readily-available diagnostic points coordinated by two reference laboratories situated in academic institutions Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and Redeemers University (RUN).
“These institutions were able to provide provisional diagnosis by the current gold standard – the RT-PCR method. Though it is such a tedious time-consuming laboratory process, suspected subjects were still being assessed and kept under surveillance through the period of the outbreak in Nigeria,” he said.
“However, since the outbreak still persists in other West African countries, Nigeria and the rest of Africa may still be at risk – from seemingly innocent asymptomatic subjects that may slip through the ports of entry undetected, just like the case currently being encountered in the USA.
“The current bio-surveillance measures utilise a questionnaire-based screening tool and a non-contact temperature check to track the onset of symptoms typical for Ebola Virus Disease.
“While the questionnaire-based screening tool is prone to deliberate human errors and a temperature check can only figure out a symptomatic patient at the onset of a high fever, a repeat of the outbreak may be easily replicated at all clear zones in Africa and beyond.
“But with a rapid genetic test at all ports of entries, all potential – even yet to be symptomatic cases at some points – may be figured out and referred to isolation units for further observation and treatment. Such is the rapid genetic test currently being adapted by these Nigerian scientists.”
Adenmosun is coordinating technical support for the ongoing clinical and research programme in Nigeria, with the support of other Nigerian scientists and health groups largely involved in the containment of Ebola outbreak.
He has been collaborating with Bioinnovation Solutions, Switzerland – a medical diagnostic company led by Dr. Yemi Adesokan, a Harvard trained scientist – to develop the right testing solution that can be adapted for Nigeria and the rest of West Africa.
In September of this year, Dr. Adesokan joined the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) to publish a study in PLOS One journal on the use of genetic sequencing-based technologies to detect Ebola and Marburg viruses.
“With a strong technical support team on ground, the Bioinnovation rapid genetic tests are being proposed for use at all ports of entry and equally at secondary and tertiary health care institutions to keep up with biosurveillance especially during this period of the year when cross-border travel peaks,” Adenmosun added.
“Each test kit will be able to run 48 samples quite easily with no need for expert training or acquisition of next-gen sequencing or amplification equipment.”
He said the access point for the test kits in Nigeria would be through May & Baker in the coming weeks, enthusing that “this exciting collaboration involving Nigerian scientists will truly help Nigeria #ToRemainEbolaFree.”