Gene Mapping Could Help Identify, Control Outbreaks
Use of technology that maps the human genome to detect infectious diseases not identified by standard medical tests could help improve response to outbreaks, according to a report scheduled to appear next month in the New England Journal of Medicine, USA Today reports.
For the report, a team of scientists that included researchers from CDC, the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and 454 Life Sciences used the technology to identify the cause of the deaths of three Australian women in April 2007. The women, ages 44 to 64, had received transplants from the same organ donor.
Researchers used the technology to compare a library of 100,000 RNA sequences with those of the women and found that the women likely died of a new form of arenavirus, which is nonfatal in most cases but can result in death in transplant patients who take immunosuppressants to prevent rejection of donor organs.
According to Ian Lipkin, director of the Jerome L. Dawn Infectious Disease Lab at the Mailman School, the technology could help identify potentially fatal viruses in transplant patients and improve response to disease outbreaks. Lipkin said, "We now have a technology that will allow us to identify agents for which we have no specific tests," adding, "Here you simply survey all of the genetic material available within a sample and, using information technology, you look at what really shouldn't be present" (Davis, USA Today, 2/7).