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Cutting edge test could be game changer in battle against Ebola

Tulane hopes to play a major role in the battle against Ebola. (FOX 8 Photo) Tulane hopes to play a major role in the battle against Ebola. (FOX 8 Photo)

The fight against Ebola in West Africa and beyond is intensifying, and a team of researchers at the Tulane School of Medicine hopes to play a major role in the battle.

They're hard at work -- developing a new, much faster way to test for the virus.

"It's similar to a home pregnancy test, except we use a small drop of blood, and it would give you an answer, basically just standing in front of a patient, whether that patient had Ebola disease or not within about 5 to 15 minutes," said Robert Garry, MD, a Tulane microbiology professor.

With a quick prick of the finger, Garry believes the blood test could become a game-changer.

“Then we would be able to diagnose the patient in their village, in their home, in their neighborhood. That person could then be put into isolation,” he said. “The way it happens now, you have to wait for several days, sometimes, and when you go back to that person in the village, they're often gone, or they've already infected other people."

The team doesn't have a firm timeline on when the tests may be ready, but Garry said they're working as determined and fast as possible.

"We have some nice working prototypes. They work well in the laboratory. We've done some of them with field testing. It's very promising," he said.

As Garry's team races against the clock to unleash the technology, doctors stress that disease response crews need to stay focused on procedures and protocol.

"What is required is very good education, very good supply of appropriate equipment," said Susan McLellan, MD, an associate professor with the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

McLellan, who has been to West Africa to treat patients, said lapses can become dangerous.

"For someone to be safe and working in the presence of this highly infectious virus, it does take a degree of understanding of principles of transmission and then also taking the most incredibly precise care in what you are doing over and over and over," McLellan said.

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