University freshmen create Ebola detection strips, could discover the virus in one hour

Two freshmen have created an Ebola detection method that could decrease the time it takes to identify the Ebola virus.

The regular identification procedure for Ebola can take up to five days.

Two freshmen at Emory University (EU) may have devised a way to fight Ebola in exchange for extra quiz points.

Rostam Zafari and Brian Goldstone designed what they call Rapid Ebola Detection Strips (REDS)—a portable test strip said to drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to detect the virus through a blood sample—after their professor offered to give out extra points on a quiz for finding a solution to Ebola.

The standard hospital procedure can take up to five days, but the creators of REDS estimate the strips can detect the virus in an hour. They caution, however, that nothing can be confirmed until a prototype is created.

“Our goal is to get it out as soon as possible, yet still have a safe and effective product,” Goldstone told USA Today. “We won’t sacrifice effectiveness for speed.”

To test the strips, the team will obtain a de-active part of Ebola and place it in an Ebola-inducing climate. If the virus successfully grows, the team will proceed to use it to test the strips.

A victim can go up to 21 days before showing symptoms of Ebola and is only contagious at that point. Accordingly, the students stress the importance of creating a quicker, cheaper solution that people all over the world can utilize.

“The sooner we can detect it, the less it spreads, and the more lives we save,” said Zafari. “If we can get them before they show symptoms, we can really curb the impact of the virus.”

The students have been working with EU professor Justine Liepkalns to design the protocols for the strips and with EU MBA candidate Raj Ramakrishnan for their business and fundraising efforts. They have reached their initial fundraising goal of $14,000 and expect to start developing a prototype in a few weeks.

“I think this is a fantastic breakthrough if the strips have good sensitivity and specificity,” said Michelle Barry, Senior Associate Dean at Stanford University. “Frightening news for a person is to be told they are Ebola positive and then it is a mistake on confirmation. And even more dangerous is if a negative test reassures the patient and they go off and spread disease.”

REDS is receiving a positive response from health experts of other universities as well.

The students worked to make sure the strips would remain effective in extreme climates, warding off potential weaknesses that strips often display when exposed to heat.

“Ebola is not just an African problem, but a human problem,” said Goldstone. “It shouldn’t have taken it coming to [the] U.S. to get us into action.”

The pair hopes to eventually distribute the strips in bulk to Africa and airports receiving passengers from countries with Ebola outbreaks.

REDS could be licensed to distribute as early as January 2015.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MaggieLitCRO