Biosensors quickly spot coronavirus proteins, antibodies

Scientists at University of Washington have created a new way to detect the proteins that make up the pandemic coronavirus, as well as antibodies against it. They designed protein-based biosensors that glow when mixed with components of the virus or specific COVID-19 antibodies. This breakthrough could enable faster and more widespread testing in the near future.

Photo
Illustration of a biosensor detecting a targeted molecule and glowing.
Source: Ian Haydon/UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design

To diagnose coronavirus infection today, most medical laboratories rely on a technique called RT-PCR, which amplifies genetic material from the virus so that it can be seen. This technique requires specialized staff and equipment. It also consumes lab supplies that are now in high demand all over the world. Supply-chain shortfalls have slowed COVID-19 test results in the United States and beyond.

In an effort to directly detect coronavirus in patient samples without the need for genetic amplification, a team of researchers led by David Baker, professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at UW Medicine, used computers to design new biosensors. These protein-based devices recognize specific molecules on the surface of the virus, bind to them, then emit light through a biochemical reaction.

Antibody testing can reveal whether a person has had COVID-19 in the past. It is being used to track the spread of the pandemic, but it ,too, requires complex laboratory supplies and equipment.

The same team of UW researchers also created biosensors that glow when mixed with COVID-19 antibodies.

They showed that these sensors do not react to other antibodies that might also be in the blood, including those that target other viruses. This sensitivity is important for avoiding false-positive test results. “We have shown in the lab that these new sensors can readily detect virus proteins or antibodies in simulated nasal fluid or donated serum, said Baker. “Our next goal is to ensure they can be used reliably in a diagnostic setting. This work illustrates the power of de novo protein design to create molecular devices from scratch with new and useful functions.”

Beyond COVID-19, the team also showed that similar biosensors could be designed to detect medically relevant human proteins such as Her2 (a biomarker and therapy target for some forms of breast cancer) and Bcl-2 (which has clinical significance in lymphoma and some other cancers), as well as a bacterial toxin and antibodies that target hepatitis B virus.

The research appears in Nature.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Nanotechnology provides rapid visual detection of COVID-19

Nanotechnology provides rapid visual detection of COVID-19

Scientists have developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes.

A bifunctional biosensor detects COVID-19

A bifunctional biosensor detects COVID-19

How fast could SARS-CoV-2 be detected? Researchers have developed an accurate, high-speed, and portable detector for COVID-19.

Quantum nanodiamonds help detect disease earlier

Quantum nanodiamonds help detect disease earlier

The quantum sensing abilities of nanodiamonds can be used to improve the sensitivity of paper-based diagnostic tests, potentially allowing for earlier detection of diseases such as HIV.

Holographic imaging to detect viruses

Holographic imaging to detect viruses

A new approach using holographic imaging to detect both viruses and antibodies has the potential to aid in medical diagnoses and, specifically, those related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lab-on-chip infection test for faster diagnostics

Lab-on-chip infection test for faster diagnostics

A tiny new silicon-based lab-on-chip test could pave the way for cheap handheld infectious disease testing.

AI-enabled rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19

AI-enabled rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19

Scientists have developed an extremely rapid diagnostic test that detects and identifies viruses in less than five minutes.

COVID-19 rapid test has successful lab results

COVID-19 rapid test has successful lab results

Rapid detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in about 30 seconds following the test, has had successful preliminary results.

A novel swab design to augment COVID-19 testing

A novel swab design to augment COVID-19 testing

Scientists have developed a novel test swab that can be 3D printed using inexpensive, widely available materials and speedily assembled in a range of fabrication settings.

A biosensor for the COVID-19 virus

A biosensor for the COVID-19 virus

Researchers have developed a novel sensor for detecting the new coronavirus. In future it could be used to measure the concentration of the virus in the environment.

Popular articles

Subscribe to Newsletter