The unfortunate deaths of three organ transplant recipients in Australia this past January has led to the discovery of a new virus. All three had received organs from the same deceased donor in December, and their closely spaced deaths suggested their transplants might have exposed them to a deadly infectious agent.
When investigators at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne applied all the standard tests, however, they could not identify any known pathogen.
So the Australian team turned to scientists at the Greene Infectious Disease Laboratory of the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University, who have been developing new techniques for diagnosing infectious diseases with funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Partnering with the company 454 Life Sciences, the Columbia University team applied a high-throughput technology that can sequence hundreds of thousands of bits of DNA simultaneously. Then, using bioinformatics algorithms they had created, the team sorted through the data and identified a new infectious agent–a virus that was sufficiently different from any known virus that it could not have been detected using existing diagnostic methods. By assembling additional genetic sequences, the researchers determined that the new virus is related to, but distinct from, known strains of lymphocytic choreomeningitis virus (LCMV), which has been implicated in a small number of cases of disease transmission by organ transplantation. The knowledge of the genetic sequence of this new virus will enable improvements in screening that may enhance the future safety of organ transplantation.
The Victoria Department of Health Services in Australia announced these findings in a news conference on Sunday, April 22, 2007. The findings have not yet been published in a scientific journal.