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The Greek behind EbolaCheck breakthrough

Among the five projects to receive portions of 1.34 million pounds financial backing for research earmarked British Prime Minister David Cameron is the EbolaCheck research project, which aims to test blood to detect the virus in a single process.

EbolaCheck is the brainchild of Dr Stergios Moschos, a professor of industrial biotechnology and biochemistry at the University of Westminster.

The effort began in July, by a team led by Dr Moschos (which also includes the deputy director of Public Health England, Professor Miles Carroll, the chief of USAMRIID’s diagnostics systems division, Dr David Norwood, and several laboratory microbiologists from West Africa) submitted the request for funding.

As Dr Moschos explains it was a collective effort that even involved molecular diagnostic technology and research conducted by the US Army. What is most surprising is that as he claims, he wasn't specialized in Ebola, but rather had worked with other viruses, like Hepatitis C, in the context of bio-defense. Working, as he explained, with renown Ebola expert Dr Edward Wright he came to understand the virus, and using his own knowledge on virus identification he understood that all these technologies could be brought together to create a simple and effective method to diagnose the virus' genomes in a very small sample of blood.

The text, as he explained will resemble that of diabetes testing with a tiny prick and a drop of blood that will be analyzed in a machine no larger than an A4 sized sheet of paper. The new method he says will be more than eight times faster than today's techniques that require the equivalent of a soupspoon of blood and about eight hours to conduct the test, searching for specific virus genomes.

The new method concentrating on a far smaller quantity will be able to finish the test in a matter of forty minutes, and give a green light for Ebola-free patients, red for infected patients, and yellow meaning a necessary re-trial.

Because of the need to get the testing to remote areas of Africa where electricity is a luxury, the test unit will be able to run on batteries, or use a lighter adaptor on a car. “The use of a car is necessary, because we want to be able to get to a village and test the patient in situ. We can't have people who are sick walking to medical centers to get tested, in the blistering sun, and possible spreading the virus along the way.”

On battery, the machine, estimates Dr Moschos will be able to conduct 40 tests, before it gives out, or is recharged.

Dr Moschos estimates that he will have the first active machine ready to be tested by January and believes he and his team will have three units ready to send to Sierra Leone, and maybe elsewhere in West Africa by May, and believes that he can have up to ten units by the end of 2015.

The project is being funded to the tune of 650,000 pounds.