As the BA.5 omicron variant spreads, health practitioners are becoming more prepared for a future in which COVID-19 mutations arise, spike, and dissipate similarly to seasonal flu. The capacity to monitor the virus on a “population size,” a process that would need accurate and incredibly fast testing, will be critical for keeping up with these alterations.
In order to address this issue, researchers from IUPUI’s School of Science are developing a novel biosensor that might match the future COVID-19 testing standards for speed and efficiency. The work was just published in the journal Applied Material Interfaces of the American Chemical Society.
The project’s directors are Adrianna Masterson, a graduate student in Sardar’s lab at the time of the study, and Rajesh Sardar, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at the School of Science.
“Everyone is seeking high-throughput testing; this sort of high-speed analysis is critical to the future of the COVID-19 fight,” Sardar said. “Our technology, in particular, has numerous advantages: it is fast, efficient, precise, and unprecedentedly sensitive.”
Sardar claims that his lab’s COVID-19 test can already analyse samples from 96 persons in less than three hours. The procedure works best with 10 microliters of blood.
In comparison, a blood panel ordered by a primary-care doctor generally requires 10 millilitres of blood, which is 1,000 times more.
Sardar claims that the sensor works with a variety of sample types, including saliva. However, blood was utilised in the study since it is the most complicated biological fluid and the greatest indicator of a sensor’s accuracy. All test samples were gathered from the Indiana Biobank, which donated 216 blood samples, including 141 from COVID-19 patients and 75 from healthy controls.
Blind testing by IUPUI researchers indicated that their biosensor had a 100% accuracy rate and a 90% specificity rate. In other words, the sensor only ever reported a false positive in one out of every ten samples and never a false negative.
According to Sardar, the lack of false negatives is more important for public safety than the presence of false positives since someone with a false negative might inadvertently infect others, but someone with a false positive is not a threat.
Sardar further stated that the sensor’s capacity to accurately assess the body’s COVID-19 antibody concentration has been demonstrated. This is done so that it can recognise both the virus’s spike protein and the immunoglobin G, or IgG, proteins produced by the body to combat viruses.
He added that it is critical to be able to measure COVID-19 antibodies because many COVID-19 antibody tests currently approved under the FDA’s emergency use authorization do not provide precise antibody counts, despite the fact that this number represents the potency of an individual’s immunity to infection.
Sardar believes that precisely measuring patients’ immunological levels will be critical in the future to preventing COVID-19.
This is particularly visible right now, when strains like as omicron and, more recently, BA.5, are infecting patients who have received all of their immunizations and booster injections.
Sardar’s lab’s biosensor is based on chemically produced gold triangle nanoprisms, which provide a highly powerful optical response to even minute quantities of IgG.
It also means that the sensor can identify antibodies in the early stages of infection.
The study, which began in the early phases of the epidemic, builds on early, hopeful findings published in June 2021. Sardar’s next objective is to enhance the system even further, with the ultimate goal of processing 384 samples in under an hour – or 5,000 samples per day if used in a larger testing facility.
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“This research is about planning for the future,” says Sardar, who is also a researcher at Indiana University’s Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. “H1N1 influenza has been around for about a century. I believe the coronavirus will be around for a long time as well. To stay one step ahead of the virus, we must develop quick, simple, and effective methods for assessing the risks of infection for a large number of people.”