Scientists say develop new SARS tracing method

Scientists in Singapore said on Friday they had developed a faster method of detecting strains of the SARS virus.

A new chip containing a “genetic fingerprint” reduces the length of molecular testing of the disease to three days from about one week, the Genome Institute of Singapore said.

The faster a strain of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is pin-pointed, the quicker health workers can identify the origin of an outbreak and who else may be infected - critical steps in bringing outbreaks under control.

SARS infected about 8,000 people worldwide in 2003, killing nearly 800 including 33 in Singapore. It briefly re-emerged in China in April, killing one person.

Molecular tests are one of several tests to identify strains of the virus.

“It can help to tell where and when an infected individual may have contracted the disease,” said Dr Edison Liu, executive director of the institute, referring to the new chip.

SARS is caused by a virus from a family known as coronaviruses. They cause diseases in livestock and some cases of the common cold in people.

At the heart of detection process, genetic material known as viral RNA is extracted from a patient and processed in a chip the size of a fingertip. This lights up, revealing a pattern indicating the virus’s genetic code.

The institute said the chip can process up to 50 samples at the same time, allowing large numbers of SARS patients to be screened at once, and can be adapted to detect other illnesses.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 3, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD