At the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), held from March 26 to 30, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin presented a new device that can quickly determine whether an individual has influenza or COVID-19. The nanomaterial-based device is so sensitive, according to the researchers, that it could detect viruses in a person’s breath.
Using the detection of electrical changes, the new graphene-based sensor detects the presence of viral proteins. In addition, the layer’s thinness makes it extremely sensitive and capable of detecting viruses at low concentrations.
Deji Akinwande, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who presented the work at the meeting, says, “These ultra-thin nanomaterials generally hold the record for best sensitivity, even down to the detection of single atoms, and they can improve the ability to detect very small quantities of virtually anything that needs to be sensed, whether it’s bacteria or viruses, in gas or in blood.”
To create the sensor, scientists fused influenza and SARS-CoV-2-reactive immune system antibodies to graphene. When the team placed a sample of viral proteins in a fluid resembling saliva on the sensor, the antibodies bound to the proteins, resulting in a change in the electrical current.
In addition, these modifications occurred rapidly, producing test results within 10 seconds. In contrast, current influenza and COVID tests rely on chemical reactions that can produce results in minutes or hours.
With funding from the National Science Foundation, the research team intends to develop a sensor that detects both omicron and delta SARS-CoV-2 variants simultaneously. If these devices become available, medical professionals would be able to determine immediately whether a patient has COVID-19 or influenza, as well as which viral variant is present.