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University of Westminster awarded £620,000 grant to develop ebola diagnostic device

Biosciences 19 November 2014

The University of Westminster has been awarded a research grant of £620,000 funded by The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Wellcome Trust to develop a portable device which can test bodily fluids to diagnose the Ebola virus.

The EbolaCheck research project, led by the University of Westminster, aims to test bodily fluids, such as saliva, to detect the Ebola virus in a single process, providing results within 40 minutes. This is over eight times quicker than some existing laboratory techniques.

Dr Sterghios A Moschos, director of the Westminster Genomic Services Unit at the University of Westminster, will lead the project and work in close collaboration with Dr Edward Wright, the renowned Ebola expert and senior lecturer in medical microbiology at the University of Westminster. The team will aim to develop a cost-effective, portable, battery-powered device which can provide reliable, rapid and safe diagnostic tests suitable for use in the field. The device is expected to be available for use as early as May 2015.

The Ebola crisis in West Africa is continuing to claim many victims. To protect suspected patients and the community, the virus must be diagnosed as soon as possible in order to rein in the spread of the disease. Currently, this is done by collecting about a teaspoon of blood and sending it to specialised hospital laboratories for tests. It then takes some 7 to 8 hours of work before results are ready. Importantly, healthcare providers need to use needles and syringes to do this, putting themselves at significant risk as blood and contaminated instruments could be highly contagious.

Healthcare in West Africa, however, is nothing like what we are used to in the West. Many people do not have access to basic services like nurses and doctors, let alone complex laboratory tests and hospitals. It takes even more time to get samples from rural communities to diagnostics labs as many areas lack even basic road networks. A solution that can offer a diagnostic result safely, quickly and reliably at the point where suspected patients are located could transform how this outbreak is managed.

Dr Moschos said: "Dr Wright, the rest of the team and I are honoured to have been given the opportunity to help the victims of this dreadful disease and the healthcare teams deployed in West Africa. Our goal is to do away with needles, labs and delays to delivering diagnosis of the Ebola virus in suspected patients.

"We will use robust technologies to develop a simple but effective tool to diagnose this deadly virus similar to a blood glucose meter, and as reliable as hospital tests. Our portable device will be designed to run on batteries and only needs a small drop of blood to provide a result in less than 40 minutes. We then aim to make the whole process even safer by being able to use the device on saliva and urine. Early prototypes of this tool will be available for demonstration in a few months and we expect to begin testing it with patient samples by May."

Experts from Public Health England, the United States and West African healthcare providers familiar with the challenges faced in these countries will work closely with the University of Westminster. Together, the team will deliver a solution as reliable as hospital tests, robust for the environment of West Africa and simple enough to be operated by healthcare providers focusing on caring for suspected Ebola victims.

They will aim to create a device based on novel, IP-protected technology which will be provided on humanitarian grounds from a UK biotechnology company based in Cambridge. Dr Wright will be also working with collaborators at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford and biotechnology companies, who are leading research on vaccines and treatments for Ebola.

The University of Westminster has a long-standing relationship with West African countries in education, research and biomedical science training.

For further information, please contact:

Sarah Evans-Toyne, Chiara Barreca or Arran Fano
Broadgate Mainland
E: [email protected]
T: +44(0) 20 7726 6111

About the University of Westminster:

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We offer highly attractive practice-based courses that are independently rated as excellent, many with international recognition. Our distinguished 180-year history has meant we lead the way in many areas of research, particularly politics, media, art and design, architecture and biomedical sciences, and our position in the city of London allows us to continue to build on our close connections with leading figures and organisations in these areas as well as in the worlds of business, information technology, politics and law.

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