Test in a suitcase for African horse sickness virus?

African Horse Sickness is spread by Culicoides species midges.
African Horse Sickness is spread by Culicoides midges.

Researchers hold out hope that a suitcase-sized portable diagnostic lab can be developed to test for the presence of the African horse sickness virus (AHSV). There are also hopes that a single chip-based test can be developed to detect and identify the presence of a wide range of different equine diseases.

Professor Peter Mertens, a virologist based at Britain’s Pirbright Institute, was commenting following the publication of a study in the open-access journal, PLoS ONE, reporting on development work on real-time laboratory-based tests for both the detection and typing of AHSV.

Mertens, a specialist in the Bluetongue and African horse sickness viruses, told Horsetalk that all tests, as currently formatted, are still laboratory-based, able to generate a result from a sample within hours of receipt.

“Having said that, there are two forward paths that we are currently exploring,” he said.

“Firstly, it is possible to get a portable PCR diagnostic lab in a suitcase, which is currently available for foot and mouth disease virus.

“So we are exploring the possibility of also using that approach for Bluetongue virus and AHSV.

“This still means using a specific assay to test for a targeted pathogen, and would be relatively expensive to test individually for a range of different viruses or bacteria.

“As an alternative strategy, we are also developing a portable chip-based technology … that can be used to detect and identify the genome, proteins or antibodies that are specific for a wide range of different equine diseases, in a single multiplex assay.

Funding was currently being sought for this work, he said.

“The plan is to target all of the important diseases of equids on a single horse-specific chip, so as to give a full evaluation of the relevant pathogens infecting an individual animal.

“As this would all be done in one reaction it would be cheaper, and since it would be ‘pen-side’ it would not require dispatch of samples to a high security lab for testing, making savings in time and costs.”

African horse sickness can cause up to 95 percent mortality in horses.

In the study published in April in PLoS ONE, Mertens and his colleagues reported on the development and evaluation of real-time laboratory tests able to detect any AHSV species and the serotypes.

The tests were shown to be rapid, sensitive and reliable in the detection and typing of AHS RNA in infected blood, tissue samples, and the midges that carry the virus.

“All of the assays detected a wide range of reference, field and vaccine strains confirming their diagnostic sensitivity and specificity, indicating that they can be used for molecular diagnosis, surveillance and molecular epidemiology studies of AHSV,” Mertens and his colleagues reported.

The full study can be read here

Bachanek-Bankowska K, Maan S, Castillo-Olivares J, Manning NM, Maan NS, et al. (2014) Real Time RT-PCR Assays for Detection and Typing of African Horse Sickness Virus. PLoS ONE 9(4): e93758. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093758

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