A new paper-based test for the Zika virus

Prof. Lee Gehrke and team announce inexpensive diagnostic device; Gehrke will apply his research to India with the Tata Center next year.


By Ann Trafton | MIT News Office

A new paper-based test developed at MIT and other institutions can diagnose Zika virus infection within a few hours. The test, which distinguishes Zika from the very similar dengue virus, can be stored at room temperature and read with a simple electronic reader, making it potentially practical for widespread use.

“We have a system that could be widely distributed and used in the field with low cost and very few resources,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and the leader of the research team.

An outbreak of the Zika virus that began in Brazil in April 2015 has been linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly. Many infected people experience no symptoms, and when symptoms do appear they are very similar to those of related viruses such as dengue and chikungunya.

Currently, patients are diagnosed by testing whether they have antibodies against Zika in their bloodstream, or by looking for pieces of the viral genome in a patient’s blood sample, using a test known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). However, these tests can take days or weeks to yield results, and the antibody test cannot discriminate accurately between Zika and dengue.

Prof. Lee Gehrke, one of the lead researchers, will adapt this technology for use in India detecting Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses through the Tata Center.

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Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT (background image courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC)