Germantown Doctor Heads to Sierra Leone to Work on Ebola Diagnostic Test


Dr. Luis Branco at Zalgen Labs in Germantown.

UPDATED The co-founder of Zalgen Labs in Germantown is on his way to eastern Sierra Leone to test a diagnostic platform for detection of active Ebola virus infections.

Dr. Luis Branco took off on Nov. 11 for Kenema to work at the Lassa fever laboratory at the Kenema Government Hospital.

“My mission is to validate a rapid, inexpensive, robust diagnostic platform for detection of active Ebola virus infections,” said Branco before he left. “I am the only member of Zalgen Labs that will go on this trip. I have been associated with the viral hemorrhagic fever program, which now includes Ebola virus as well, for almost ten years. I have been to the same laboratory in Kenema perhaps a dozen times over this time frame, so I know the setting and logistics as well.”

According to Branco, there is a “dire need for rapid diagnostics in the region of west Africa currently affected by the Ebola outbreak.”

His task is to validate the diagnostic platforms in the laboratory.

“Although a number of companies or consortia are working on Ebola diagnostic platforms ours is perhaps one of the most advanced and nearing deployment status,” said Branco. “I hope to validate the assays, derive statistics on its performance and prepare all documentation necessary to help the consortium apply for FDA emergency use authorization of the test.”


Dr. Luis Branco is traveling to Sierra Leone on Nov. 11.

Branco said he will not be working directly with Ebola patients but he will handling thousands of patient samples, many of whom have had Ebola.

So is he apprehensive?

“I am apprehensive, yes,” said Branco. “The strain of Ebola currently circulating in west Africa appears to be highly infectious although it has been less pathogenic and lethal than Ebola strains from previous outbreaks. This means that it may be easier to contract this Ebola strain, although this has not been scientifically proven.”

Branco said his team is carrying a comprehensive set of personal protective equipment (PPE) with up to five changes per day per person. “We will rely on our longtime experience working with viral hemorrhagic fever viruses to remain vigilant and safe,” he said.

According to Branco, it’s important to do this work now.

“The consortium rapid test is only now approaching final development, so it’s the time to test it in the field to assess its robustness,” Branco said. “The rapid test being developed by the viral hemorrhagic fever consortium diagnoses active Ebola infections in 15 minutes or less. The current information from sources on the ground in Sierra Leone indicate a lag time of three to five days between collection of blood samples for testing and the availability of PCR [polymerase chain reaction] results. The infrastructure on the ground cannot presently accommodate faster turnaround times, which has helped Ebola spread rapidly. If this exercise is successful, we may be in a position to deploy these diagnostics within the next month or two, which will likely impact outbreak containment positively.”

Branco said his family has been “highly supportive” of his work, “although they are apprehensive as well.”

He plans to be vigilant and cautious when he returns home, too.

“I will be in a self imposed quarantine after my return for 21 days, during which time I will not have contact with my family,” he said.

You can watch our earlier report on Zalgen Labs here.


County Health Officer Gives Update on Ebola, TB and School Vaccination Requirements

photo of vials of vaccine

The county’s health officer updated the Montgomery County Council Tuesday on the topics of Ebola, tuberculosis and school vaccinations. Dr. Ulder Tillman gives a public health briefing to the county council about twice a year. Of the 11,001 Montgomery County Public Schools’ sixth graders entering seventh grade in August, 7,098 still do not have the required  Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-acellular […]

Read more

Patient Admitted with Ebola Virus Discharged from NIH Clinical Center


UPDATED April 9, 5:44 p.m. The American healthcare worker admitted to the NIH Clinical Center on March 13 with the Ebola virus was discharged today in good condition after having been successfully treated at the NIH Clinical Center Special Clinical Studies Unit. According to NIH officials, the individual is no longer contagious to the community. No […]

Read more

Five Things to Know Today, April 8, in Montgomery County


Here are your five things to know today, April 8, in Montgomery County: 1. A Hate Crime: Gaithersburg police are looking for the vandal(s) who defaced a synagogue in the Lakelands community and city leaders are speaking out about the incident. 2. Getting Better: NIH officials have upgraded the condition of a patient with the Ebola […]

Read more

Five Things to Know Today, March 13, in Montgomery County


Here are your five things to know today, March 13, in Montgomery County. 1. The 41st annual Public Safety Awards ceremony takes place today at the Bethesda North Marriott. 2. A healthcare worker diagnosed with the Ebola virus is scheduled to be admitted to NIH today. 3. Meet the two MCPS students who are campaigning […]

Read more

Zalgen Labs Plans to Ramp Up Production for Ebola Test (VIDEO)

photo of Dr. Luis Branco, cofounder Zalgen Labs

In this MyMCMedia Extra video, Zalgen Labs’ co-founder Dr. Luis Branco said as the newly approved rapid diagnostic test for Ebola hits the market he will need to ramp up production at his startup company. Related:

Read more

"This is A Game Changer For Ebola" (VIDEO)

photo of Dr. Luis Branco, cofounder Zalgen Labs

In this MyMCMedia Extra video, Zalgen Labs’ co-founder Dr. Luis Branco said the approval of a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola is a gamechanger. Related:

Read more

Zalgen Labs Co-Founder Plans Return Work Trip to Africa (VIDEO)

photo of Zalgen lab technician performing tests in protective gear

In this MyMCMedia Extra video, Dr. Luis Branco said he plans to return to Eastern Sierra Leone sometime this year to continue work on the recently approved rapid diagnostic test for the Ebola virus. Despite progress, he said there are always more questions to answer. Related:

Read more

Dr. Luis Branco: "I Was Exposed to a Lot of Ebola in the Lab" (VIDEO)


In this MyMCMedia Extra video, Zalgen Labs’ co-founder Dr. Luis Branco talks about his work on the rapid diagnostic test for Ebola late last year in Africa and what happened when he returned to the United States. The World Health Organization approved a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola last week. Related:

Read more

Zalgen Labs Expects to Expand Following Rapid Ebola Test Approval (VIDEO)

photo of Zalgen lab technician performing tests in protective gear

It’s called a gamechanger: a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola has recently been approved and a startup Germantown company, Zalgen Labs, played a part in the development of that test. MyMCMedia’s Sonya Burke reports. You can find more information about this development and the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium that made it happen on its website. […]

Read more

Zalgen Labs Success to Spur Economic Development in MoCo (VIDEO)

Susan Prince

Susan Prince, development specialist for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, talks about Zalgen Labs and the impact that company’s success has on the life sciences industry here.

Read more

Krista Brick

About Krista Brick

Krista Brick is a multi-media journalist with Montgomery Community Media.


| No comments yet.

Engage us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter