According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus, which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.
Well, thanks to Zikalika Project - Detection of Zika virus rapidly without the need for a laboratory in Brazil. This experiment is part of the Zika Virus Challenge Grant. They are developing a new diagnostic assay that identifies the presence of ZIKV and other viruses. The goal is an easy, rapid, economical, local & reliable test without the need of a lab or highly trained personnel.
We tried to get in touch with Zikalika team for a short interview and thanks to Gilad Gome, the Principal Investigator of this project for granting our request and here are the questions we asked:
Let's start with the ZIKV Project. Can you tell me something out it. What motivates you to start this project? Who is/are part of the team? How far have you done?
For me, this project is very important especially for the millions of people in Brazil. This is a life saving project. How do you feel about that?
Also, aside from the crowdfunding you started which I believe already earned $17k, do you have any other source? Are there any government or private institutions helping you financially?
When do you think this project will be completed and what's next?
Here's Gilad's answers:
I was about to open the first bio-hackerspace in Tel Aviv with Guy Aidelberg when the ZIKA virus started to appear in my feed, a media war full of false or non-verified claims about topics like : GMO mosquitos, pesticide and the cause of babies with neural damage basically shared carelessly on twitter, facebook and most main papers. BTW today ZIKA is declared a cause of microcephaly by the WHO. (not may,could or might).
So I decided to bring my previous knowledge in Diagnostics to this case. That day was 2 months ago.
We started to read all known ZIKA virus literature, we identified the need for a reliable POC diagnostic and surveillance mechanism.
Paralleled to that we found collaborators in Recife the epicenter of ZIKA outbreak.
LIKA institute in UFPE, landed here in Recife 4 week s ago.
We got a donation from a Singularity University Alumni to get here and start work. it was supposed to be 2 donations, one of them bailed out and we had to be resilient and survive that.
Once arrived to LIKA I saw the labs here and the people I knew we can make it work, so we started ordering reagents and supplies from the ODIN.
Everything got stuck in customs. So all we could do was in-silico studies, comparing all new sequences and finding areas of interest for our assay in the genome of ZIKA.
Today I am finally happy to announce we have all we need to start working, and we are now writing the experiments protocols with experts from 3 countries. (google doc is efficient!).
you can see our team and read our labnotes on experiment.com\zikalika
We are not supported by government, at least not at this point, we have submitted several grant applications to UK and US grants, but they take time and usually go to big\connected labs. we hope to win the extra 10K grant offered by experiment.com. The 10K goes to the project with most backers, so if everyone can back us up with 1$ that will be great .
Our assay is simple, it is not cutting edge, it just works. It works on isothermal amplification of unique sequences we chose from recently sequenced genomes of ZIKA.
About Zika and Brazil: ZIKA virus is transmitted by mosquito. Brazil is a tropical country, everything wants to grow here, everything is wet once a day, it is heaven for all living things like humans, mosquitos, and viruses too...
Our clinical lead Dr. Alexander Kumar expressed his feelings “It's been very hard seeing and hearing stories firsthand from mother’s and families whose lives have been affected by Zika virus now a proven cause of microcephaly. A test that is so reliable and affordable but is not complicated in that it could be performed by a twelve year old, living in a resource limited setting, it’s a potential game changer for doctors and patients worldwide”.
The current situation is making us think of ways to get this out to all people, by releasing all data we have when we get it ,and not wait to publish it on a research paper\or write a patent, in fact once we publish our primers no one can patent them (thats neat). secondly the aim is to call for designers to participate in a challenge to design the kit. My hope is that more people are inspired to do similar developments in their countries for Issues affecting their health.
This is not the first or last virus we will need to deal with, keep that in mind. With travel increasing, human population and cities flowing with people we will see more viruses.
We are all just DNA boxes, and viruses know how to jump from one box to the other.
About the future: As long as People don't have access to data encoded in RNA\DNA flowing in their body I will aim to innovate ways to enable such. we see great things happening with Oxford nanopore, illumina and others, all aim to serve a researcher. I am curious about ways to interact with everyday people, like the pregnancy test.
New DNA sequencing companies are offering data analysis, I think the data will cost money at first, but in years to come you will see that DATA like to be free, and people will work to set it free. sci-hub is a good example.
People deserve ways to answer nucleic acid based questions.
I would highlight the need for assays that don't require sample preparation, or easy sample preparations protocols and call for more biohackers to work on such.
We all have the same DNA.