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article imageNew test uncovers every past infection

By Tim Sandle     Jun 5, 2015 in Science
New York - A science group have revealed a blood test that can reveal every past viral infection a person has contracted. It is based on the immune system containing "memory codes" of past diseases.
Essentially the new blood test decodes the infection history imprinted in a person's immune response. The idea is not so much to reveal a hidden history but rather to push forwards understanding of how viral infections contribute to the development of various diseases. According to The New York Times, the test is capable of detecting past exposure to more than 1,000 strains of viruses from 206 different species.
The principle of the test is not uncovering anything new, it addresses a basic fact of immunology: when a person contracts virus infection, their immune system produces antibodies to fight the virus. These antibodies are very specific, and they are designed to interact and attempt to destroy specific viruses. This antibody-virsu match has been described by some as a "a lock and key."
Once these antibodies are produced, they exist for a long-time, even after the infection has disappeared. In some cases, for decades. It is on the basis that the test works. Although immunologists have known about the presence of such antibodies, until now no single test has been able to capture them.
The test was based on a library of genetic information about viruses, gathered over many years. This information was then used to generate a set of bacteriophages, each able to 'detect' different viruses. Studies on 500 people successfully screened for a range of viruses. The average number of viruses found per person was 10, with the highest recorded being 80.
The test was developed by Professor Stephen Elledge who is based at Harvard University Medical School. Elledge told BBC Science: "You can ask questions about all viruses rather than have to do things one at a time, so it allows you to discover connections between different populations or different diseases amongst groups of people." He also added, tellingly "Now that we can look at all viruses, it's a complete game-changer."
The breakthrough has been published in the journal Science. The paper is titled "Comprehensive serological profiling of human populations using a synthetic human virome."
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