Boston University researchers create new diagnostic tool

Researchers at Boston University have created a diagnostic tool that quickly identifies dangerous viruses, including Marburg and Ebola, that could be used in airports, developing nations and other places where man-made or natural outbreaks could occur.

The biosensor is the size of a quarter and from a blood sample alone it can detect viruses without the need for preparing samples, fluorescent tagging or signal amplification.

“By enabling ultra-portable and fast detection our technology can directly impact the course of our reaction against bio-terrorism threats and dramatically improve our capability to confine viral outbreaks,” Hatice Altug, an assistant professor at Boston University and co-leader of the research team, said. “Unlike PCR and ELISA approaches, our method does not require enzymatic amplification or a signal, or fluorescent tagging of a product, so samples can be read immediately following pathogen binding.”

This technology may help in the fight against RNA-virus detection because RNA viruses do not always present virus-specific symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose. A speedy detection method like the new diagnostic tool could lead to quicker identification and treatment.

The biosensor works by detecting changes in the resonant frequency of light transmitted through nanoholes on a metallic film on the sensor. When a virus binds to the surface of the sensor, it can identify that the virus is present and how highly concentrated it is in the blood sample.

The researchers hope to create a portable version of the platform using microfluidic technology so that field works can use the device with minimal training.