New Flu Test From UGA
Researchers devise fast, inexpensive way to determine whether someone has flu--and what type of flu.
During a flu outbreak, it’s critical that public health officials determine an accurate diagnosis very quickly. But until now, medical and health officials have had to chose between a rapid test that isn’t very reliable or a time-consuming, accurate test.
Scientists at the University of Georgia have developed a new flu test that offers the best of both worlds, according to a report in a recent issue of the journal Analyst.
The technology first coats gold nanoparticles with antibodies that bind to specific strains of the flu virus. It then measures how the nanoparticles scatter laser light. In this way, it can detect influenza in minutes, costing only a fraction of a cent per exam.
"We've known for a long time that you can use antibodies to capture viruses and that nanoparticles have different traits based on their size," said study co-author Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine Development in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine. "What we've done is combine the two to create a diagnostic test that is rapid and highly sensitive."
Working in the UGA Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, Tripp and co-author Jeremy Driskell linked antibodies, immune system proteins, with gold nanoparticles. This bonds with any flu virus present in a sample. An inexpensive device, commercially avaialbe, measures the intensity with which light is scattered by the solution.
Driskell said that gold nanoparticles, roughly a tenth of the width of a human hair, are very efficient at scattering light. Biological molecules such as viruses, on the other hand, do not scatter light well. The clustering of the virus with the nanoparticles alters the intensity of the scattered light.
This new flu test can be done at a typical doctor's office, said Driskell, who is an assistant research scientist in Tripp's lab. "You take your sample, put it in the instrument, hit a button and get your results."
Everyone knows that gold is expensive, but the new diagnostic test uses such a teeny bit that the cost per test is just 100th of a cent.
Tripp also is working on adapting the new technique so that poultry producers can quickly detect levels of salmonella in bath water during processing. Since poultry is the largest agricultural industry in Georgia, the technology could have a significant impact on the state's economy.
"This test offers tremendous advantages for influenza, but we really don't want to stop there," Tripp said."Theoretically, all we have to do is exchange our anti-influenza antibody out with an antibody for another pathogen that may be of interest, and we can do the same test for any number of infectious agents."
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