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New Genetic Technology IDs Virus That Killed Transplant Recipients
Date:2/6/2008

Could be used to help against many illnesses that evade diagnosis, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 6 (HealthDay News) -- A new genetic-sequencing technology has enabled the fastest-ever identification of a deadly virus, one that killed three transplant patients, researchers report.

The technique could be used to help against many common illnesses that now evade diagnosis, experts said.

"It is now possible to use this method, which is rapid and comprehensive, to find new pathogens in staggering time," said study senior author Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The virus struck three Australian women who received transplants from one donor -- two kidneys and a liver. All three began to run a high fever and died four to six weeks after the transplants. Researchers in Australia and the United States then used the new technology on samples of RNA, the genetic material used by viruses, taken from the three women.

More than 103,000 RNA sequences were analyzed by the new technology. Fourteen of them were found to be identical with that genetic material of an infectious agent called an arenavirus. Antibodies against that virus were then found in the bodies of the three women.

The study findings were released online Wednesday a month ahead of print in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The genetic-sequencing technology was developed by 454 Life Sciences, a Branford, Conn.-based biotechnology company that was recently bought by Roche Pharmaceuticals. Its speed has been demonstrated before, in more basic scientific work, said Brendon Hill, a spokesman for the company.

The Human Genome Project, the first effort to sequence the entire genetic material in human beings, took years and cost about $2.5 billion, Hill said. The new technology got the complete genetic sequence of James Watson, one of the discoverers of the
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