ShareThis Page
News

University of Pittsburgh researchers' blood test could benefit HIV screening

| Saturday, June 11, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

University of Pittsburgh researchers have developed a blood test that identifies infectious diseases by mimicking the human body's immune response to them, a method that one day could identify a person's entire infectious-disease history and provide new insights into little-known diseases.

The test will take several years to reach doctors' offices. One of its earliest applications could be to improve tests for autoimmune disorders, said Dr. Donald Burke, dean of Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health. Burke co-authored a paper on the test that was published last week by the Journal of Immunological Methods.

The researchers tested the method against the HIV virus. They built a library of millions of random synthetic molecular shapes and tested whether each could attach itself to HIV antibodies present in the patient's blood. Four of the shapes fit the antibodies in HIV-positive blood but not in HIV-negative blood, and one was a particularly effective test of the virus, according to the study results.

β€œThe importance lies not so much in that this is a better HIV test, the importance lies in that this is a better methodology for developing tests,” said Burke.

With a library of 100 million random molecular shapes, known as peptoids, scientists may be able to find some to match any infectious disease, Burke said. The peptoids for each disease could then be combined to create one test for many diseases, he said.

Thomas Kodadek, chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at the Scripps Research Institute, pioneered peptoids to study autoimmune disorders, in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissue.

One of the earliest clinical applications for the peptoids is likely to be autoimmune disorder diagnostics, which could come as soon as a couple of years, Burke said.

The method could help in detecting cancer, which the body develops antibodies against. The antibodies don't kill tumor cells or inhibit the cells' spread, but the test might be able to spot them, Burke said.

β€œOne possibility is finding antibody markers that say you have a cancer, even before it's known that it's a diagnosed cancer,” he said.

Burke speculates the method could be used to learn about emerging new diseases, although it hasn't yet been used that way. Learning what types of antibodies bind to new antigens could yield information about how the antigens work, potentially speeding the way to cures, he said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the study.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or wventeicher@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me