Washington University engineers develop technology for COVID-19 kits

A team of engineers is developing a new biosensor which can be used for rapid COVID-19 testing.

The team received federal funding in order to develop more biosensor-based testing kits. The unprecedented global health threat caused by the coronavirus pandemic is a significant factor influencing both future and current public health and economic decisions.

Whilst there is still no cure, massive testing has been deployed in several areas to prevent the disease from spreading extensively. Thus, testing for such antibodies must be quick, fast, and easy to distribute through the population.

For most cases, the safest option is a point-of-care test. Instead of sending a sample to a different laboratory for analysis, this type of test displays findings easily when performed.

New biotechnology biosensor called plasmonic fluor

A team of engineers at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis created a rapid, highly sensitive, and reliable biosensor based on an ultra-light fluorescent nanoprobe.

According to professor Srikanth Singamaneni, the newly developed biosensor is plasmonic-fluor-based. This could work 100 times more sensitive than the typical SARS-CoV-2 antibody detection methods.

The biotechnology will enable clinicians and researchers to easily identify positive cases and alleviate the chances of false negatives. It is also ideal in resource-limited areas because it requires fewer complex instruments to read the results.

How does it work

Plasmonic fluors are nanoscale particles with high sensitivity. These give off ultra-bright signals when detecting the target molecules. Case in point, antibodies protecting against the SARS-Cov-2 virus will be distinguished.

The plasmonic-fluors will be printed on a paper-based medium enabling even low levels of antibodies to give off a bright fluorescent signal visible to the naked eye. Additionally, the test will use different signaling methods to indicate high and low antibody concentrations.

Useful but not perfect

Fluorescence is used in scientific research and clinical laboratories as a guide to accurately see and track target biomolecules. It is a very useful device but it is not perfect.

The lead author of the paper has stated that increasing the brightness of a nanolabel is extremely challenging. If the fluorescent signal is not strong enough to stand out against background signals, researchers may miss seeing something less abundant but important.

Fortunately, gold nanoparticles are being utilized as an antenna, strongly absorbing and scattering light. The light are consequently funnelled to the fluorophores which increases the fluorescence emission.

The National Science Foundation has awarded the team a $100,008 grant toward developing a COVID-19 test using plasmonic-fluor. The federal funding for the newly developed technology will potentially yield to more Covid-19 testing kits being deployed broadly.

Image Courtesy of PIRO4D/Pixabay

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