One particularly tricky part of the COVID-19 pandemic was being able to distinguish between COVID-19 infection and other common infections, such as a cold or the flu. After all, many of these respiratory infections often present with similar symptoms making it hard to tell the difference: coughing, a sore throat, and frequent congestion. Especially during times when multiple viruses are spreading around the same time, it can be more challenging to identify if someone has COVID-19 or the flu, for example.
Many common tools we use to test for these illnesses are designed to look for certain chemical reactions occurring that indicate someone has one virus or another. However, these can sometimes be inaccurate, and often only able to detect a virus is there is a large enough viral load.
According to researchers at the University of Texas, nanotechnology may offer a way to more accurately detect COVID-19 and flu viruses and do so at a much lower viral load, allowing for the earlier detection of these infections. Researchers are presenting their work this week at the annual spring Meeting of the American Chemical Society, March 26-30, which is taking place both in person and online.
The new device uses a single, thin layer of carbon atoms. These atoms are arranged in a unique hexagonal pattern. Combined with the thin layer of carbon atoms, the device is capable of detecting electrical changes in the surrounding environment, as opposed to chemical reaction changes like current diagnostic tools. Then, to “pair” the device properly, researchers took SARS-CoV-2 and flu virus antibodies and attached them to the graphene device. That way, when the sensor is exposed to a viral sample, the antibodies attach to their corresponding viral proteins, triggering a change in the surrounding electrical environment.
As part of their testing, researchers used SARS-CoV-2 and flu proteins, rather than the full virus. Their testing revealed that the sensor could accurately detect the viruses, but it could also do so when the present “viral load” was very small, highlighting the devices extreme sensitivity.
Sources: Eurekalert!; ACS