College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Chickenpox study could lead to new tests

Fresh understanding of the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles may lead to improved vaccines and diagnostic tests.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh devised a technique to separate the virus into its constituent proteins and then print them onto a biochip.

They incubated the chip with blood from people who had previously had chickenpox.

Immune response

Researchers were able to pinpoint which proteins in the virus triggered a reaction in the body’s immune system and discovered that certain patients respond to different proteins.

Understanding how patients react helps scientists design better vaccines and blood tests.

Improving diagnosis

Researchers say these results may help create a test that offers improved sensitivity and earlier detection of infection compared with conventional tests.

Presently there is no test to show if an individual has acquired immunity against the virus through vaccination or a previous infection.

Such a test could show whether they are at risk of chickenpox or a secondary infection, which causes shingles.

The research, a collaboration with Arizona State University and the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, was supported by EaStCHEM and published in Molecular Biosystems.

This study has allowed us to look in great detail at the virus which causes chickenpox and we now know enough to design a better blood test than those currently available. This could help protect people for whom the infection represents a serious risk, such as pregnant women and elderly people with weak immune systems.

Dr Colin CampbellDivision of Pathway Medicine