Understanding the Importance and Intricacies of the Application of Western Blot in Medical Tests

Since the 1970s, the disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been a concern for all Americans. HIV, as it’s more widely called, is not the death sentence it once was. But proper treatment is required to maintain overall health and prevent the patient from developing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

HIV testing plays an incredibly important role in protecting public health and paving the way for a patient to receive the treatments they need to enjoy a long and full life. While there are different testing methods available to confirm an HIV diagnosis, the Western blot test is one of the most well-known in the biomedical community. Read on to take a closer look at how Western blot kits work and why you may require these Western blot kits at your facility.

What is the Western Blot Test?

The Western blot test is typically used during the second step of HIV testing. First, a patient undergoes what is known as a high-sensitivity test — usually, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent essay (known as ELISA). This test is designed to detect HIV antibodies and antigens in the blood. It is recommended to those who have either been exposed to HIV or who are at a higher risk of contracting HIV. This may include those who use intravenous drugs, those who received blood transfusions prior to the mid-1980s, and those who have contracted other sexually transmitted diseases or who engage in riskier sexual activity. You can also undergo the ELISA test if you are uncertain about your HIV status.

Because there remains a possibility for false positives with an ELISA, a second test will usually be ordered to confirm an HIV diagnosis. Historically, this second test was the Western blot test. Today, there are other alternatives available; however, Western blot tests remain a staple for many biomedical facilities and research laboratories.

How Do Western Blots Work?

Western blots are used to detect certain proteins within a given sample. A Western blot test kit works by searching for unknown proteins through the use of antibody exposure. Researchers use prepared samples of HIV proteins and will compare a sample of a patient’s blood; if any of the antibodies stick to the sample, it can be noted that HIV antibodies (or proteins) have been detected. This can be used to indicate a positive HIV infection.

When used to confirm a positive ELISA, the results are extremely accurate. However, Western blot kits can return an indeterminate result if the sample’s antibodies do not match with the enzymes being tested. An indeterminate result may be returned if an individual’s HIV infection is quite new or if they have been infected with another retrovirus. Although Western blot tests are less sensitive than initial forms of HIV testing, that may actually be to the patient’s benefit. Since they are also less likely to return a false positive, this can eliminate the need for unnecessary worry. That said, an additional Western blot kit may need to be employed for later testing if the patient has undergone HIV testing too early in the infection process.

Although Western blot tests are not the only way to confirm an HIV diagnosis, they are still utilized by many biomedical facilities today for other tests and research. To learn more about the different types of Western blot test kits available or securing test kits for your facility, please contact ITSI Biosciences today.

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