Researchers develop rapid scanner for multiple pathogens

Researchers used tunable luminescent nanocrystals as part of a tagging system to scan multiple pathogens in a single test, according to a study recently published in Nature Communications.

The team of researchers, from the Sydney, Australia-based Macquarie University and the West Lafayette, Indiana-based Purdue University, previously developed a way to control the length of time light from a luminescent nanocrystal lingers. The research introduced the dimension of time to optical detection technology, which already uses color and brightness.

By using detection based on the lifetime of light from a nanocrystal, combined with its specific color, scientists are able to use an exponentially higher number of possible combinations and unique tags for biomedical screens.

"We now are able to build a huge library of lifetime color-coded microspheres to perform multiple medical tasks or diagnoses at the same time," Yiqing Lu, the leader of the research, said. "The time saved by omitting the need to grow or amplify a culture sample for testing and eliminating the need to run multiple tests will save future patients precious time so treatment can begin, which can be life-saving when managing aggressive diseases."

After attaching unique tags to DNA strands of Ebola virus, HIV, hepatitis B virus and human papillomavirus 16, the researchers were able to accurately read and distinguish the tags in high speeds in suspension arrays.

"Now we've successfully measured the lifetimes of these tags on the fly at thousands of samples per second," J. Paul Robinson, the leader of the biological testing of the technology, said. "The next step is to perform such high-throughput testing within a liquid, like water, blood or urine. That will open the door to widespread biological use and clinical applications, as well as the detection of pathogens in food or water."

Robinson said the technology could lead to scans that identify thousands of different target molecules simultaneously.