Thursday, June 4, 2015

Blood test for every virus at once

Cheap blood test reveals every virus you've ever been exposed to

19:00 04 June 2015 by Jessica Hamzelou

You'll probably remember the last time you had the flu, but what about
that time you had measles – or was it chicken pox? Your blood knows:
it keeps a record of every virus you've ever been infected with. A
tiny drop of the stuff can now be tested to reveal a person's viral

The test, called VirScan, reveals that adults around the world tend to
have been infected by an average of 10 viruses over their lifetime. It
could also be used to identify links between viral infections and
mysterious diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome.

When a virus infects us, our immune cells respond by producing
antibodies that neutralise it when they bind to specific proteins on
its surface. These antibodies continue to be made long after the virus
has been cleared from our body, ready to mount a quicker response
should it return.

This means that their presence can act as a viral footprint – a clue
that the viruses they target were once in the bloodstream. To test
whether someone has been infected with a virus, expose a sample of
their blood to a viral protein. If antibodies target it then the virus
has infected the person in the past.

Stephen Elledge at Harvard University and his colleagues have pushed
this idea further and developed a way to test a blood sample for every
single family of human virus in one go.

Gotta catch 'em all

Elledge says that all he needs to carry out the test is a tiny amount
of a person's blood – less than a drop. It costs just $25, and could
help doctors identify hidden infections. "A lot of people have
hepatitis C, for example, without realising," says Elledge. You could
imagine routinely screening people in this way, he says.

To develop VirScan, Elledge and his colleagues used an international
database to look up all viruses known to infect humans – around 1000
strains from 206 viral species. Using this information, they recreated
the DNA in each virus that's responsible for making its proteins, and
put the DNA segments into individual bacteriophages – viruses that
infect bacteria. Each bacteriophage then manufactures a particular
viral protein on its surface.

When someone's blood is mixed with the bacteriophage brew, any
circulating antibodies latch on to the associated proteins on the
bacteriophages. Sequencing these bacteriophages then reveals the
person's viral history.

David Matthews at Bristol University in the UK thinks the best use of
VirScan might lie outside of diagnostics, considering we already have
quick and easy tests for individual viruses. "Usually when you've got
a set of symptoms, doctors have a pretty good idea of what you've
got," he says.

Moreover, the immune system takes a while to make antibodies, so you
might not find a strong antibody response in the early stages of an
infection. The test would also not be able to distinguish between
antibodies made as a result of an infection and those triggered by a

Disease detective

Instead, the technique might be useful in outbreaks of new viruses.
Understanding how our immune system responds to other viral fragments
might reveal clues as to which family the new virus belongs to, says
Pamela Vallely at the University of Manchester, UK. "If we'd have had
this test during the HIV outbreak in the 1980s, it would have given us
a clue for where to be looking to find out more about the virus," she
says. "It's a really exciting technique."

As well as playing an investigative role in outbreaks, VirScan could
also offer a way to investigate whether viruses are involved in
disorders that aren't well understood. For example, Elledge's team
will be collaborating with another group to test people with chronic
fatigue syndrome, to see if they might have been infected with any of
the same viruses.

"Multiple sclerosis is usually wheeled out as being linked to a
virus," adds Vallely. "You could check."

Down on the farm

The team used the test to screen blood samples from 569 people from
four countries – the US, South Africa, Thailand and Peru. As you might
expect, adults appeared to have encountered more viruses than
children. Each person had been infected with an average of 10 viruses
over their lifetime.

Matthews thinks it would be worth extending the screen to animal
populations. He envisages screening wild populations of animals
thought to be linked to emerging diseases. "You could test the wild
bat population to get a good idea of what viruses are out there," he

At the same time, farm animals could be comprehensively screened.
Farmers that are able to identify viruses affecting the health or
yields of their herds might be able to halt the spread of those
viruses, says Matthews.

"It is a fantastic piece of work and will be very, very useful," he says.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0698

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Churches and the Disabled

I recently spoke to a woman from a charitable organization that educates churches about how to deal with their disabled members (including advising on handicap-accessability).
Several people involved in the conversation noted that they were in some way made to feel unwelcome, even at churches they'd attended for years, once they became disabled.
My theory is that we permanently disabled folks make them feel uncomfortable -- we don't fit their philosophy.  We pray our hearts out and God does not answer with the promised healing.  Nor do we die quickly so they can rationalize "God needed another angel."  We just linger, decades of meaningless suffering, proof every time they look at us that God does NOT answer all prayers.  How can you convincingly  preach "God answers all prayers" and "God will heal you" if sitting in the front row is Exhibit A, someone who's been praying diligently for 20 or 30 or 40 years and the answer is always No?
Churches also are very good about helping those with short-term issues like new babies or cancer, but I was not the only one who was refused assistance with what would be a chronic, long-term problem. More than one of us was told to turn to the government instead of our church, "that's why we pay taxes."
So much for what the Tea Party tells us, that there's no need for government assistance, private charity and churches should take care of every one who needs help.  Our churches are falling down on the job and, in many cases not even trying. 
I have yet to get anyone to understand that you cannot get government assistance unless and until you are approved for Disability ... at best, our patients fight for as much as a decade before they're approved, and almost half never get it because of the assumption that we can just take some anti-depressants and be cured, or simply get up some gumption and stop faking and go back to work.  They know someone else who was disabled and got IHSS workers, and therefore, if I'm not getting IHSS, it can't be because I don't fit the criteria, it has to be because I'm too lazy to apply or didn't fill out the paperwork the right way or because my doctor doesn't think I need it and won't sign the forms. Seriously, there are people (including doctors) who think that getting a government housekeeper is as simple as calling the right agency, don't need to meet any criteria to qualify.
I originally stopped going to church because I had no immunity -- someone at church who NEVER would have gone to work feeling that way dragged themselves to church and shared their germs with me, and then I'd miss a few days of work later in the week when I got sick as a result.  I couldn't afford to miss that many days, I was out of paid sick days for the year in February already, so my only option was to avoid the source of infection: church.
I eventually stopped going to church entirely because God and the church kept letting me down when I begged for help.  Clearly. I was good enough to give my time and money, but not good enough to deserve anything in return when I was the one who needed help.  Neither God nor the government gives money to CFS research, so I started sending all my spare cash to the people who are actually doing something that might eventually help me, and using my limited good hours to work for CFS patients rather than for the church that continually neglected me and my needs. 
After 20+ years of praying for a miracle, I realized I wasn't going to get it; my trust was misplaced to think I would be miraculously healed just by asking God to consider all the good that I'd done and grant me a reward for my faith and hard work.  I was through with believing in empty promises and started demanding action, not just "trust me" and "I'll get around to healing you when I'm good and ready and not before."  The only thing I was seeing in answer to my prayers was being sent a series of doctors and cleaning ladies who simply made things worse; not the way to convince me that you have my best interests at heart!
And, yet, the church refuses to accept their part in pushing me away by continually telling me No, that I couldn't have any help no matter how much I needed it, simply because God has "blessed" me with the wrong diagnosis for any charity to offer help.  Sorry, but it IS the church's responsibility to take care of members who are disabled, regardless of whether it's a few weeks of casseroles during chemo or years of help for someone suffering a chronic illness.
And if having to face the reality that not every person who prays for healing is actually healed is unpleasant for you, address that to God, don't take it out on the disabled person who needs help.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Maybe it's not that God doesn't think I deserve help, maybe it's that God is using my illness to teach you compassion, and you're stubbornly refusing to learn that lesson by trying to find ways to blame me for my own illness so you can justify continuing to sit on your comfy couch instead of getting up and coming over to help with my chores.
Which means it's not God who's punishing me for something -- it's YOU making the decision that makes me suffer.