A international team of scientists has just developed a comprehensive screening mechanism called VirScan. This technology is a high-throughput method that comprehensively analyzes antiviral antibodies using immunoprecipittion and parallel DNA sequencing of a bacteriophage library that displays proteome-wide peptides from all known human viruses. While it might not be a complete history, VirScan revealed the presence of antibodies to 10 or more different viral species per person in a 569-person study that included subjects from the United States, Peru, Thailand, and South Africa. At least two of the individuals tested had at least antibodies against 84 different viral species. The study found 206 different viral species in total, and over 1000 strains.
Widespread adoption of VirScan could be a great diagnostic and research tool. Current serological testing is usually focused on testing for one pathogen at a time. The analysis costs about $25 per person and only 1 microliter of blood. One of the unexpected results of VirScan was that different people produced structurally similar antibodies to a small number of “public” epitopes for many different viral species. The team hopes that VirScan can be used to study the effect of host-virome interactions on human health, and possibly be expanded for test for bacterial, fungal, and protozoan pathogens.
Clinically, VirScan could be used to identify antibodies for a virus that a patient might not be aware he/she was exposed to, especially latent viruses that can lead to cancer (e.g. hepatitis C). VirScan could also be used to draw associations between viruses and chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome.
The color of each cell in the grid depicts the relative number of antigenic epitopes detected for a virus (rows) in each sample (column).