The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a quasi-public agency, will issue a $1 million grant to help develop a faster, more accurate test for diagnosing Ebola, Gov. Deval Patrick announced Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, a Massachusetts doctor who had Ebola announced he's returning to Liberia, where he contracted the virus, to resume his work.
The grant will support a partnership of local life sciences companies, nonprofits and academic institutions that will try to speed up the launch of an Ebola detection tool already in development by Diagnostics For All, a nonprofit organization.
Officials on hand for the State House announcement promised the new tool — which will accept a "single finger-stick of blood" and provide a clear "yes" or "no" response in 45 minutes — will be cheaper, easier to use and lead to earlier diagnosis than current tests.
They said current tests are time- and labor-intensive and not always sensitive enough to detect Ebola at its earliest onset, which they said is critical to containing and effectively treating the disease.
Patrick said the investment would assure that Massachusetts will play a central role in saving many lives from the deadly virus.
Richard Sacra, a Massachusetts doctor cured of Ebola in the U.S. after working in Liberia, said the testing tool would make an enormous difference for West Africa, where there have been nearly 18,000 confirmed or suspected cases and approximately 6,400 deaths.
Sacra, a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, also announced he's returning to Liberia to resume working at a medical mission.
Sacra, who was one of at least 10 people so far treated for Ebola in the U.S., says he "feels great" and that doctors have said he's now effectively immune to Ebola, which has no vaccine.
"I'm not hearing a lot of pushback from home," Sacra said. "I've been working there for years, and my risk at this point is no different than it was before because I'm immune to Ebola."
The $1 million "challenge" grant requires the partnership to raise an additional $4.5 million and deliver a field-ready product within six months.
The partnership will be headed by Diagnostics For All and includes Harvard University, UMass Medical School, GE Healthcare and Cambridge Consultants, among others.
This post was updated at 2:38 p.m.