Detection of Viral Pathogens in Indian Patients Who Have Suspected Viral Encephalitis

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Investigator: Donald E. Ganem, MD

Location(s): India

Description

Using a genomics-based approach, Ganem and DeRisi have employed a DNA microarray that bears the telltale gene fragments of all known viruses of humans, animals, plants, and microbes on a microscopic slide. If a sample from a suspected viral genome has a chunk of genetic material that matches one on the slide, it will adhere to that spot and light up when the slide is put into a scanner. While the method is more likely to identify viral genomes related to known viruses, Ganem thinks it also will be useful for detecting novel viruses.

The team has already used this approach to identify the genome of the newly discovered SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus. They are now using the same technology to search for viruses that are more likely to cause severe upper respiratory infection in patients with asthma. Ultimately, Ganem hopes to determine whether viruses may be responsible for certain cancers and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, for which a viral infection has never before been established. This type of research, Ganem acknowledges, is risky: "There are only two results—you either get a home run or you strike out. There's no such thing as a base hit in this kind of work. But this is what I've always wanted to do. This is what I feel like I was born to do."

Dr Ganem is currently Global Head of Infectious Diseases Research & VP at Novartis Insitutes for Biomedical Research.