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Research shows new technique could cut time to detect polio in half

This is the first time that this type of scientific method has been used to detect polio.

A new Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)-supported study has revealed that direct molecular detection and nanopore sequencing (DDNS) could significantly reduce the detection time for polio.

Researchers at the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale in Kinshasa have proved, for the first time, that using DDNS to detect polio outbreaks can reduce detection time and reduce costs for public health authorities.

Researchers implemented DDNS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the outbreak of polio originated, and enabled samples to be tested in the country, reducing costs and delays in transport and testing from 42 days to 19 days.

Currently, samples from countries with active polio outbreaks are shipped around the world for laboratory tests to confirm polio cases.

Javier Martin, principal scientist in virology at MHRA, said: “By implementing detection methods such as DDNS, we can identify where outbreaks are and which polio strain is present much more quickly, allowing us to act at the earliest opportunity.”

Across a six-month period, researchers found that DDNS tests done locally in the DRC were an average of 23 days faster than the standard method, with over 99% accuracy.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the MHRA, Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, various World Health Organization (WHO) laboratories, the Global Polio Laboratory Network (GPLN), and was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Professor Placide Mbala-Kingebeni, medical doctor and virologist, at Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale, said: “Collaboration and training with our partners has empowered the local team not only to master and confidently carry out this new technique but also to transfer the knowledge and skills to other African countries where poliovirus outbreaks are reported regularly.”

MHRA scientists will continue to support the testing and validation of DDNS as a polio detection technique and will train WHO laboratories on how to use it.