A new study has found a large number of previously undetected viral pathogens responsible for respiratory tract infections (RTIs) by using an innovative technology, reports the September 15 issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Between 50% and 80% of asthma attacks are caused by viral upper RTIs such as the common cold, and yet little is known about the viruses themselves.

The Virochip technique, a DNA microarray or genome chip developed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, uses the most conserved sequences of all known viruses of humans, animals, plants, and microbes for its detection system. The new study is the first to employ this strategy to investigate the viruses associated with RTIs in people with and without asthma.

Compared to the conventional methods of viral culture, the Virochip had excellent agreement in terms of identifying viral pathogens according to the results of the study led by Amy Kistler, PhD.

The method uncovered a surprisingly broad range of viruses linked with RTIs and identified an entirely new branch of the genetic tree for the human rhinovirus, a principal culprit behind the common cold, Kistler said. Even with a small test group the Virochip enabled detection of new viruses that were not possible to culture, she added.

These findings are important given the poor understanding of the role viruses play in asthma. Kistler suggested that future groups use the device to gain viral detection knowledge that could be put in the service of new asthma treatments.

To read the Journal abstract, click here.