Tulane researcher works to develop 15-minute test for Ebola


Emma Discher, Senior Staff Reporter

Developing a 15-minute rapid finger prick test for Ebola has been Tulane microbiology and immunology professor Robert Garry’s most recent project. The current test takes three days.

“We can employ a very simple spring-loaded device that makes a little prick in the finger and easily draw a small drop of blood from that,” Garry said. “Then that drop of blood is applied directly to a stick, and then the stick is put in a tube. Five to 15 minutes later you can see if a test line has developed … It kind of works like a home pregnancy test that you can buy at Walgreens.”

The test has many advantages in addition to decreasing the time it takes to get results. This test is less risky to the person administering the test, and it does not require drawing a tube of blood. The easy administration of the test allows its use in places like airports and hospitals for those who show potential symptoms.

The Ebola research program began in 2010, but Garry has split his time between teaching and researching the Lassa fever, a similar hemorrhagic fever disease, for the last 10 years. The current outbreak of the Ebola virus started in Guinea, a country in West Africa. By May it had spread to Sierra Leone, the base location for Garry’s research. 

“When Ebola came to Guinea, the outbreak actually started about three hours away from our research facility in the town called Kenema, so we knew immediately that we needed to start preparing for the possibility that some of the patients who would come to our Lassa fever program would actually have Ebola,” Garry said. “Some of our colleagues unfortunately contracted the disease and died.”

Garry and his team were able to apply their research and progress with Lassa fever to Ebola because they are similar. The National Institutes of Health granted Garry’s research team and Corgenix Medical Corp a $2.9 million grant in June to proceed with the work.

The team’s field testing has been successful so far. Garry’s team is in the process of applying for an Emergency Use Authorization, which would grant them permission from the Food and Drug Administration to use the diagnostic test in emergency situations.

Garry has already been to West Africa six times this year, most recently at the end of June. He came back to raise awareness for the current crisis with Ebola, as it is a serious threat. Garry said he does not think that the United States will have an outbreak like West Africa.

“I do think that this is a very serious virus and threat,” Garry said. “I think that the U.S. is not going to have an outbreak like in West Africa. Our healthcare system is too advanced, and we have better communication and police forces and everything else that you would need to put something like this rapidly under control.”

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