Researchers at NYU Dentistry have developed a new test for Zika through using saliva samples instead of blood samples. The test, completed in collaboration with a molecular testing company named Rheonix, was adapted from previous research done by the same team on a saliva-based HIV test.
The Zika virus can be traced for a much larger window of time in saliva and urine than it can in blood. To detect the virus, the test must be able to locate certain pathogens and antibodies. Zika is largely spread through mosquitoes but can be transmitted from a mother to her fetus and through sexual intercourse. It has also been known to cause birth defects.
Testing for Zika using saliva is much quicker than testing through blood. Blood tests can take hours or days to obtain results while saliva tests can be completed in a matter of minutes.
The research team consisted of a team of professors, postdoctoral researchers and study authors. The prospect of using saliva samples to detect Zika sparked the research team’s interest during the virus’s initial outbreak in 2015 and 2016, according to NYU Dentistry postdoctoral associate Maite Sabalza, who participated in the research.
Dentistry Professor Daniel Malamud, one of the leaders of the research team, expects that, in the near future, travel security could involve using cotton swabs to test for diseases.
“If they’re coming from a place where you know there’s an epidemic, then I think they should be tested for that disease,” Malamud said.
Malamud believes he and his team have developed an effective protocol for sampling Zika, which could decrease the rate at which the virus is spread. He was especially surprised at how quickly the team was able to receive grant money from the National Institute of Health.
“It’s amazing because it takes usually nine months to get a grant and this happened in about 10 days,” Malamud said.
There were some initial challenges in getting samples for experimentation because very few organizations wanted to share their own samples. Fortunately for the team, Sabalza was able to eventually contact someone in Brazil and had samples sent directly to NYU.
NYU students studying science are encouraged by the research and its potential effects. CAS first-year Sofi Luminari celebrated the test’s applications.
“[The test is] not only affordable, but it can also be something that can be distributed to many countries,” Luminari said.
The team’s research is expected to vastly speed up Zika detection and diagnosis, and researchers hope their new discoveries can be used by those suffering from the virus. It is unclear at this point when the test will be made available to doctors or for public use.
Email Jack Feeko at [email protected]