Groundbreaking study uses small chip to immediately detect Zika, stage of infection

Texas Biomed in San Antonio part of national team doing revolutionary research

SAN ANTONIO – A groundbreaking new study could soon take the guessing out of Zika treatment.

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio is working with a team at the University of California Santa Cruz to help find an immediate way to diagnose Zika and determine the infection's stage.

The chip is only a few inches long, but local researchers are proving its power by taking bodily fluids infected with Zika and letting the chip detect the virus.

"Very small amounts of fluid, and the device just looks at what's in the fluid and detects it immediately," said Texas Biomed professor Dr. Jean Patterson.

It's that immediacy Patterson said makes the research groundbreaking.

She leads the Texas Biomed portion of the study and said never before has technology been able to detect the Zika virus in real time and pinpoint how far the infection has progressed.

That is crucial information when it comes to treatment.

"Many of our antivirals work only early in infection, and they're less effective (later), so if you know you're early in infection, you can certainly be prescribed some antivirals. If it's later, you might not want to bother or you may have other sources of treatments that you would do later in infection," Patterson said.

The chip is held in California at UC Santa Cruz, where it was designed by electrical engineers. However, the virus samples were collected and prepared at the Texas Biomed lab in San Antonio.

The samples come from primates.

"We infect the marmosets, and then we draw blood and look at the saliva, urine and semen, and then we take those samples and we transport them to UC Santa Cruz, and they put them in their device and see if they can, in fact, detect it from bodily fluids," Patterson said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in 2018, there were 64 Zika cases in the U.S. and 116 cases in U.S. territories.

As the problem continues, this technology could show patients exactly what's happening inside them and possibly save their lives.

Researchers ultimately hope the chip can be used to detect many different viruses.

Research on the same chip has already been published with use for Ebola.

This Zika study could further prove its success.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.