Researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) have created a new sensor that detects viral infections from a blood sample.

The sensor analyses antibodies in the blood, which act as an indicator of a person’s health. The device requires around ten antibodies to identify viruses, in comparison to existing tests that require numerous antibody molecules.

In addition, standard tests take up to a day to process the information, while the new technique requires less than 20 minutes.

To develop the sensor, the researchers chemically embedded a small gold wire with Zika and chikungunya virus proteins, which are commonly used in enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests to detect antibodies produced to fight infections.

“We hope that it can be used for point-of-care diagnostics, and that it can be developed into a compact hand-held system.”

The team ran an electrical current through the gold wire and added antibodies to bind to the viral proteins. The change in mass was measured to quantify the number of antibodies attached to the surface of the wire.

The CSU’s chemical and biological engineering department head David Dandy said that the sensor demonstrated high specificity. It did not lead to any reaction or reactivity from antibodies targeting other viruses, which mitigated the risk of false positives.

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The team intends to leverage its previous viral detection research to devise a single system to identify viruses.

The CSU’s microbiology, immunology and pathology department associate professor Brian Geiss said: “We hope that it can be used for point-of-care diagnostics, and that it can be developed into a compact hand-held system that can be used in the clinic or in resource-limited areas.”