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Diagnostic biosensor quickly detects SARS-CoV-2 from nasopharyngeal swabs

21.04.2020

According to many experts, early diagnosis and management are critical for slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, the race is on to develop diagnostic tests for the virus that are faster, easier and more accurate than existing ones. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Nano have developed a field-effect transistor-based biosensor that detects SARS-CoV-2 in nasopharyngeal swabs from patients with COVID-19, in less than one minute.

Currently, most diagnostic tests for COVID-19 rely on a technique called real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which amplifies SARS-CoV-2 RNA from patient swabs so that tiny amounts of the virus can be detected.


A new test quickly detects SARS-CoV-2 (spheres) through binding to antibodies (Y-shapes) on a field-effect transistor.

Credit: Adapted from ACS Nano 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.0c02823

However, the method takes at least 3 hours, including a step to prepare the viral RNA for analysis.

Edmond Changkyun Park, Seung Il Kim and colleagues wanted to develop a faster diagnostic test that could analyze patient samples directly from a tube of buffer containing the swabs, without any sample preparation steps.

The team based their test on a field-effect transistor -- a sheet of graphene with high electronic conductivity. The researchers attached antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the graphene.

When they added either purified spike protein or cultured SARS-CoV-2 virus to the sensor, binding to the antibody caused a change in the electrical current.

Next, the team tested the technique on nasopharyngeal swabs collected from patients with COVID-19 or healthy controls. Without any sample preparation, the sensor could discriminate between samples from sick and healthy patients.

The new test was about 2-4 times less sensitive than RT-PCR, but different materials could be explored to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, the researchers say.

###

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Research Council of Science and Technology funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT, Korea and the Korea Health Technology R&D Project through the Korea Health Industry Development Institute funded by the Ministry of Health & Welfare, Korea.

The abstract that accompanies this paper can be viewed here.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS' mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people. The Society is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a specialist in scientific information solutions (including SciFinder® and STN®), its CAS division powers global research, discovery and innovation. ACS' main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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Further reports about: Diagnostic RNA SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test graphene nasopharyngeal swabs

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