Detecting Ebola, Yellow Fever and Dengue on a paper stip

When a fever strikes in a developing area, the immediate concern may be: Is it the common flu or something much worse that requires quarantine? A paper-based diagnostic test that distinguishes between yellow fever virus, Ebola, and dengue, using different colored nanoparticles tagged with virus-specific antibodies. Credit: Chunwan Yen

Fever is a common symptoms for many diseases, like flu, Ebola, Yellow Fever and Dengue. Clearly, the threat posed to the affected person, and to the ones that could be infected, is quite different.

Particularly in poor areas with very limited medical support having an easy and affordable way to determine the cause of the fever, or better, to exclude that the fever is a red flag for a nasty infection, would save many lives.

A joint work carried out at MIT, Harvard and US Food and Drug Administration has resulted in the creation of a test for Ebola, Yellow Fever and Dengue, three of the worst infections that hit African people. Most importantly, the test is using paper and can be performed with very limited training and at very low cost.

Detecting a virus is usually done through PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) or through ELISA (Enzyme-Linkek Immunosorbent Assay), very precise procedures that require skilled technicians and well equipped labs.

The researchers have found a way to attach specific antibodies to silver nanoparticles that binds to a specific virus.  The size of the silver nanoparticle reflects light of a specific wavelength (colour). When a virus is present it gets stuck on the antibody and this expose, in a way, the silver nanoparticle giving the strip of paper a given colour. 

The test is not as precise as PCR or ELISA but it is sufficient to provide a clear and quick indication in the field and can greatly improve effectiveness of quarantine measure.  

Interesting to see the many applications of nano tech!

Author - Roberto Saracco

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