Science News

Virus Detecting Device Offers Instant Diagnosis

Sun, 14th Nov 2004

Part of the show Origin of Earth, The Moon and Life


Scientists from Harvard University in the US have devised a detector which can rapidly identify viruses in patient samples. Charles Lieber and his team have found a way to link tiny silicon wires, called nanowires, to antibodies which can lock on to specific viruses. When the antibodies pick up a virus, or even part of a virus, the electrical conductance of the wires changes in a characteristic way for that particular virus. In other words different viruses produce their own specific electrical fingerprint which enables the machine to identify, immediately, which viruses are present in a sample collected from a patient. So far the technique has worked successfully on flu viruses, adenoviruses and a member of the mumps-virus family. The major benefit is the speed with which the machine can help a doctor reach a diagnosis. Present methods involve sending patient samples to a laboratory where they are painstakingly cultured, subjected to DNA analysis, or identified under the microscope, often with the aid of colour-coded antibodies. The whole process is very labour intensive and time consuming. But the new nanowire technique can detect several different infections simultaneously, again saving time, and patients also receive appropriate treatment for their infections more rapidly, including being isolated from other patients to whom they might pose an infection-risk.

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