Harvard researchers trial cheap, efficient paper-based Zika test

It could get results in hours instead of the days or weeks it takes current tests.

Based on the paper-based sensors they made to detect viral-based pathogens like Ebola, a Wyss Institute at Harvard research team created a version that checks for Zika. This prototype method could reveal the presence of the disease in hours instead of the days or weeks it takes for blood tests, but it needs more refining before it's accurate enough to be deployed.

Put simply, the new test is strips of paper embedded with a synthetic biomolecular sensor made of genes and proteins that change color if they detect their target -- in this case, Zika -- and can tell the difference between that virus and other mosquito-spread illnesses like Dengue. But a crucial improvement over the previous version is the new one's ability to detect traces of the* disease in blood, urine or saliva.

While the color change can be seen with the naked eye like a home pregnancy test, researchers also designed an electronic reader that can get faster results than eyeballing. After some developments, it could quantify viral loads.

Once they refine the test, the researchers see this method as a platform. By changing the target the test's genes and proteins are hunting for, a new diagnostic can be designed, tested, validated and deployed in a week, say the researchers.