PARIS (AFP) - A new device similar to a simple pregnancy home-test could allow doctors to diagnose a patient with suspected Ebola in under 15 minutes, its French developers said Tuesday.
Trials at a high-security lab have validated the technique and prototype kits should be available in Ebola-hit countries by the end of October for a clinical trial, France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) said in a statement.
The diagnostic tool, not yet approved by regulators, works by monoclonal antibodies reacting to the presence of virus in a tiny sample, which can be a drop of blood, plasma or urine, it said.
A European pharma company Vedalab is turning it into a user-friendly kit called Ebola eZYSCREEN.
Similar to a DIY pregnancy test, a positive result sees a small stripe showing up in a results window on the hand-held device.
The kit is simple to use in the field without any additional equipment, said the CEA, which also does non-nuclear research with a possible military or security application.
"It can give a result in less than 15 minutes for anyone showing symptoms of the disease," it said.
"Current tests, which are based on genetic detection of the virus, are highly sensitive but need special equipment, take between two and a quarter and two and a half hours and can only be carried out in a lab," the CEA explained.
Scientists at the agency began working on the diagnostic tool in mid-August, when the epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone worsened. The test is for the so-called Zaire ebolavirus, the strain now circulating in West Africa.
The achievement builds on previous Ebola research funded in part by the French defence ministry as part of its anti-bioterrorism programme.
This research had "saved more than a year" in development time of the diagnostic test, the CEA said.
More than 4,500 people have been killed by Ebola since the start of the year, almost all of them in west Africa.
The epidemic has thrown the spotlight on poor infrastructure in the three hardest-hit nations but also the lack of weapons to tackle a disease that until now had been extremely rare and claimed relatively few lives.
Other pharmaceutical teams are also working on fast diagnostic tools for Ebola. They include Primerdesign, a spinoff company of Britain's University of Southampton, and Corgenix Medical Corp of the United States.