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UT Researchers Developing Home Testing Kit For Zika Virus

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Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Zika Home Kit Prototype

UT Professor Tim Riedel has been working with a team of researchers and students to design a home device that can test for the presence of any virus, including the Zika virus which has become a health crisis throughout parts of South and Central America.


“In my particular lab we are trying to make the pregnancy test for everything, so instead of having to go to a doctor you just get your own little test, it says yes or no,” Riedel explained


Ridell said student researchers have found a way to sequence individual enzyme codes that will detect the Zika virus and other diseases.  He said when a virus DNA is detected in blood of a crushed mosquito the enzyme markers should light up, turning bright orange.


“The hope is they’ll be able to go out, catch mosquitoes, they stick them in their diagnostic device and whether or not that’s great science or not, hopefully they have some peace of mind and can say well at least there is no Zika in my backyard,” Riedel said.


It seems simple, but how will it work? 


Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Dr. Tim Riedel demonstrates how the kit will work at UT-Austin's DIY Lab.

  “What we have here that I’m pointing at is our little illumination box and what we can do if the user was to look in there and put there little unknown reaction tubes in the top, if that DNA amplified to these billions and trillions of copies it will be glowing,” Riedel explained.


Riedel said the test takes about an hour to complete.


The device used for identifying the diseases was designed by student researchers using a 3-D printer and is about the size of a small orange, much bigger than what you’d expect to see on the shelves at your neighborhood pharmacy.


So along with being able to actually detect the presence of Zika, Riedel says they also need to make the device smaller and simpler to use.


“I think we will have field testable-prototypes by the end of this year, hopefully by the end of this summer,” Riedel predicted.


Dr. Peter Hotez, a national expert in the field of tropical diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston sees how these do-it-yourself Zika testing kits could benefit county public health departments tracking the disease in Texas by allowing them to phone in their results and create a quicker public health response.  But Dr. Hotez said creating an over-the-counter testing kit for the public is a different matter.


“Knowing whether or not a mosquito in your neighborhood is positive for Zika is fraught with a lot of danger in terms of interpretation.  It’s also not clear what you would do with the information.  This is the kind of the information that is best served by putting in the hands of experts,” Hotez explained


Dr. Riedel with UT-Austin said in the next two to three years, he predicts consumers should start seeing these do-it-yourself mosquito testing kits available for purchase at neighborhood pharmacies.   

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.