“Our plan is: Make it open to everybody," from doctors with a single troubling case to large research efforts such as the state-run California Encephalitis Project.
University of California San Francisco will be launching a center for viral diagnosis and discovery in early 2009. The goal is to hunt down more causes of pneumonia, encephalitis and other lethal and disabling conditions whose origins too often baffle doctors, even as their patients are slipping away. Requests for analysis are only made through doctors or research projects, not the general public.
Virologist Joe DeRisi, inventor of the Viro-Chip from Carmichael, California, will be part of the project. His Viro-Chip, a microarray that holds genetic snippets of thousands of viruses on one glass slide, will be one of the key sleuthing tools.(1)
Highlights from article that appeared in The Sacramento Bee:(2)
"Our plan is: Make it open to everybody," from doctors with a single troubling case to large research efforts such as the state-run California Enchephalitis Project, said Dr. Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist who'll head the center.
"About 20 to 30 percent of the time we can't make a diagnosis in pneumonia," said Chiu. "The situation is even worse for other severe diseases like encephalitis," an inflammation of the brain whose cause is unknown in more than 60 percent of cases.
Those mysteries are "unbelievably frustrating to the family, the patients, the physicians," said Dr. Carol Glaser, who is involved in a government-funded effort to detect more causes of encephalitis. "If you don't know what causes it, how can you figure out how to treat it or prevent it?" she said.
Eliminating a wide range of possible causes can protect a desperately ill person from undergoing risky diagnostic tests or taking unneeded drugs.
Once the new center is up and running, perhaps in February or March, Chiu expects to hear from more doctors struggling to understand unusual cases, the ones where patients keep getting sicker and all the standard diagnostic tests come back negative.
Still, said virologist DeRisi, "We don't want members of the public sending us weird stuff. We want them to go to their doctor and have the doctor send us stuff.”
1. See New York Times Q&A “Computers + Biology = Virus Detector (A Conversation with Joseph DeRisi)” by Claudia Dreifus, published Oct 6, 2008.
2. See “Virus hunter looks to make more medical breakthroughs at UCSF” by Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, Sacramento Bee, Dec 7 2008