Medical mysteries solved in record time through direct DNA sequencing

Directly detecting viral and bacterial DNA in patients’ blood is now a method of diagnosing disease.



According to the TV series House, diagnosing mysterious illnesses is “more of an art than a science”. Not any more… Next Generation Sequencing can now pinpoint the elusive agents of disease within 48 hours using fast DNA sequencing methods. Blood or spinal fluid is taken from the patient and searched for all DNA. The results are matched against a database of the DNA codes of viruses and bacteria.

This week scientists at the University of California reported solving two tricky cases using this new method. One patient, a 21-year-old who came back from a trip to the Australian Outback with a fever and joint pains, was diagnosed with a virus related to chicken pox. Her case was published this week in the journal Genome Research. Another patient with life-threatening brain inflammation was cured after researchers found he was carrying a tropical bacterium, Leptospira.

Dr. Charles Chiu, the scientist heading the project, told Richard Harris from npr, “As opposed to the way we normally diagnose infectious disease — meaning we target a single infectious agent at a time — this test works by detecting all the DNA present in clinical samples.”

This new method is taking the stage as the most promising diagnostic tool for puzzling diseases. Unfortunately, however, the tests still cost $1000 in labour and materials (not counting the expensive machines). Hopefully in the future cheaper ways of replicating these procedures will be discovered. Via Medical mysteries solved in record time through direct DNA sequencing

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