A NEW faster and safer way of diagnosing the deadly Ebola virus has been developed by a North-East academic.

Research led and carried out by Dr Sterghios Moschos at Northumbria University means that patients with Ebola-like symptoms can be identified and treated much sooner and at the point of care, helping to reduce the spread of the disease and risks to others.

During the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014, patients tested for the disease had to provide a blood sample for testing in a specialist lab by highly trained staff.

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There are only a few of these facilities in the world,including Public Health England’s Lab in Porton Down in the UK, with each diagnosis of the Ebola virus genome taking between five to eight hours to confirm.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr Moschos’ research team, working with a manufacturer of innovative diagnostic solutions, a new point of care diagnostic platform – EbolaCheck - has been developed, which can be deployed to the scene of an outbreak.

The test can now be carried out on an amount of blood that is 700 times smaller than previously needed - literally a drop obtained by ‘pin pricking’ a finger - and it now takes less than 70 minutes to complete.

As a result, the test is much safer to administer, requires minimal training and reduces the cost of diagnosis significantly. Crucially, its performance is comparable to laboratory testing, meaning any patient with symptoms of Ebola can be safely and reliably diagnosed.

The technology could also be used in the diagnosis of other high-risk viruses such as the Zika, MERS, SARS, flu, and dengue viruses, but also bacterial and parasite infections, including meningitis and malaria. This is because it detects and measures genes and genomes and so has broader applications in medicine.

Dr Moschos, an associate professor of cellular and molecular sciences, said: “During the Ebola outbreak, between 2013 and 2016, over 28,500 individuals contracted the disease with a mortality rate of 39.5 per cent.

“These people often had to walk for hours to reach overflowing treatment centres, or wait for days for samples to be processed.

“Some were put at risk having to wait next to probable Ebola virus cases for an ‘all clear’- usually because the symptoms of other diseases, like malaria, made them fear they had the Ebola virus. The development of this pioneering technology could essentially save lives and reduce the spread of the disease.”