Our immune system develops antibodies to any virus that it encounters, and these antibodies are present in our blood anywhere from years to decades. Researchers from Howard Hughes Medical Institute have taken advantage of this antibody memory to design a method called Virscan to identify all viral infections that have affected an individual over their lifetime. The study, published recently in the journal Science, reports the development of the method and analysis of blood samples from 569 patients in United States, South Africa, Thailand, and Peru.
To develop the test, authors synthesized 93,904 short DNA fragments and introduced them into bacteria called bacteriophages that could manufacture the protein for the corresponding DNA segments. This way, unique protein segments encoding nearly all the 1,000 known strains of viruses were created. When presented with a drop of blood, the specific regions in the protein sequences on the bacteriophage binds to the antibodies in the blood, which can then be sequenced in the laboratory to identify all the viral antibodies present in the blood.
As a proof-of-concept, the authors analyzed the presence of HIV and Hepatitis C antibodies in blood samples of patients already infected with the viruses.
From the study abstract :
VirScan is a method that enables human virome-wide exploration—at the epitope level—of immune responses in large numbers of individuals. We have demonstrated its effectiveness for determining viral exposure and characterizing viral B cell epitopes in high throughput and at high resolution. Our preliminary studies have revealed intriguing general properties of the human immune system, both at the individual and population scale. VirScan will be an important tool in uncovering the effect of host-virome interactions on human health and disease and could easily be expanded to include other human pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoa.
Study in journal Science: Comprehensive serological profiling of human populations using a synthetic human virome…