For movie characters, viruses can come from anywhere, including the depths of space. If you are one of the unfortunate inhabitants of the film Virus, you might even find yourself at the mercy of a smart virus moving through your electronic devices. In the real world, that thankfully hasn’t happened — and hopefully never will — but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the pathogens and technology infecting humans go away. significantly interface.
Enrique Valera of the University of Illinois Department of Bioengineering and his colleagues have developed a device capable of attaching to a smartphone for real-time disease detection and analysis. The device is reported in the log Analyst.
In the current study, the team used their device to detect the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease. There is a distinct opportunity to improve detection of Zika as it is largely asymptomatic in most of the population, but can cause significant birth defects if a patient is pregnant during infection. Furthermore, blood-borne diseases are of particular interest with regard to the simplification of detection because conventional tests require significant preparation of the sample beforehand.
“We develop microfluidic devices for the detection of blood-borne pathogens, among other things because one of the great challenges for this type of device is to work directly with whole blood. Working directly with whole blood is difficult due to the large number of cells in the blood. Our device avoids any prior blood treatment“Valera told SYFY WIRE.
Existing pathogen detection processes are often complex and require specialized knowledge or equipment to prepare. The researchers wanted to develop something that was easy to use and self-contained, so that anyone could self-test for a number of diseases.
Their device works in two parts, the sample cartridge and the detector. The cartridge uses chemical lysis to release viral RNA from the blood, in this case Zika virus. The RNA is then amplified using a process known as loop-mediated isothermal amplification, otherwise known as LAMP. Importantly, no heat treatment or purification is required beforehand, making this system advantageous over existing methods. Once amplified and exposed to buffer, viral RNA fluoresces and becomes visible. This is where the smartphone comes in.
“In the second part of the device (module B), we heat the solution to amplify the RNA molecules of the virus and we can optically see this amplification event. We have a smartphone-based reader that can read and find the fluorescence event in real time. We correspond an increase in fluorescence with the presence of the virus“, Valera said.
During testing, the device was able to confirm the presence of Zika in a sample in as little as 22 minutes, making the entire process from sample to detection around half an hour. Currently, the device has a dedicated battery, but the team is working on streamlining the design. In the future, they plan to use the smartphone battery for power. They also have other improvements in the works. In addition to expanding the types of pathogens their device can detect, they are also working to have it detect multiple pathogens at the same time.
“Bloodborne viruses can have many similarities in characteristics and transmission. There is a possibility of co-infection of the same individual with more than one virus. The aim is to be able to test the same blood sample for several viruses in order to find one, but also to exclude others.“, Valera said.
Of course, expanding the usefulness of the device will require innovations in the way it detects pathogens. Right now, it looks for RNA in blood droplets, but testing for other pathogens might require the ability to look inside saliva and other testable bodily fluids. Each of these presents different challenges and detection mechanisms. The result is that the detector can be reused. Unlike conventional single-use test kits, the smartphone detector could use disposable detection cartridges while allowing the detector itself to remain uncontaminated.
Valera envisions a future in which their devices are not just found in clinical settings like doctor’s offices and hospitals, but could be taken into the home, giving consumers access to real-time diagnostics. Who would have thought that you could find out what makes you sick between surfing the web and gaming? angry Birds?
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