Spectroscopy goes viral

Professor Bayden Wood.

The Monash Scientists at the centre of the ground-breaking work using spectroscopy technology to detect malaria have expanded their research to show for the first time the same principles could be applied to diagnose the hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV).

Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide resulting in approximately 1·45 million deaths.

The finding is outlined in the first edition of the Journal of Clinical Spectroscopy.

“The development of a new, fast, portable and reagent-free diagnostic technique for HBV and HCV viruses would be an enormous benefit to society,” said study author Professor Bayden Wood, from the Monash School of Chemistry.

“Our research shows how we can use light to diagnose viruses at point-of-care using infrared spectroscopy,” he said.

“The results show that for the HBV infection versus controls we achieved a sensitivity and specificity of 87.5% and 94.9%, respectively and for HCV 81.6% and 89.6%, respectively.”

Blood borne viral infections can be difficult to treat and are amongst the top leading causes of mortality worldwide.

These infectious agents are transmitted by direct contact with infected blood and body fluids.

The research team evaluated the ability of Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy combined with multivariate data analysis to classify human serum samples based on the presence of HBV and HCV infection.

The work focused on a large clinical study involving samples from 347 patients and is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Monash School of Chemistry, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, and the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory.

The research team, which included PhD student and first author Supti Roy, was able to identify a specific marker for HBV infection in the spectra and assign the band to hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), which is lipoprotein produced by the HBV virus. This enables HBV to be distinguished from other viruses.

Additionally, the researchers were also able to identify inflammation markers (IgG) in the spectra that could serve as a marker to identify a person who has a viral infection.

Study co-author Dr Philip Heraud a Senior Research Fellow at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute said diagnosis of HCV and HBV were currently based on the detection of antibodies or antigens using serological assays and molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based assays for the detection of viral nucleic acids.

“These techniques require bulky equipment, are expensive, and are time consuming,” Dr Heraud said.

“The portability of the ATR device along with simplicity of the method make this an ideal tool for deployment in resourced challenged remote communities.”

“ATR-FTIR shows promise as an initial screening approach for initial detection of underlying infection and appears to be able to discriminate HBV and HCV infected samples,” he said.

“However, since the approach appears to detect the response to infection or compounds synthesised by the virus rather than the presence of the virus itself, more work is required to ascertain how specific the response is to different viruses and other infectious agents, before a viral diagnostic based on ATR-FTIR spectroscopy can be realised.”

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