Plasmonic biosensor to detect SARS-CoV-2 in COVID-19 patients

Written by Alex Hyde, Future Science Group

Scientists from The University of Zurich (Switzerland) and Institute of Environmental Engineering (Zurich, Switzerland) have developed a diagnostic assay to detect RNA sequences from SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. The localized surface plasmon resonance-based assay can distinguish SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the current global pandemic, from its close relative SARS-CoV-1.

It is widely accepted that expanded and improved testing is a necessity to adequately control the spread of COVID-19. The output from current COVID-19 tests are, in places, limited by a shortage of supplies, the requirement for PCR equipment and false positives and negatives.

In the research, published in ACS Nano, the team developed a new test which uses localized surface plasmon resonance, a technique capable of detecting interactions between surface molecules on constructed metallic nanostructures. By attaching DNA probes that recognize SARS-CoV-2 RNA sequences to gold nanoparticles, it is possible to detect the presence of specific viral RNA.

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To reduce false positives and false negatives, the team used a laser to generate thermoplasmonic heat. In the heated system, it is more difficult for imperfectly matched RNA sequences to remain attached to the gold nanoparticles. Under these conditions, the researchers were able to discriminate between SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2.

The technique still needs to be tested and validated in human RNA samples from patients with COVID-19. If these prove successful, the test could help to address some of the challenges currently associated with COVID-19 diagnosis.

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Source: Qiu G, Gai Z, Tao L, Schmitt K, Kullak-Ublick GA, and Wang J. Dual-functional plasmonic photothermal biosensors for highly accurate severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 detection. ACS Nano doi:10.1021/acsnano.0c02439 (2020) (Epub ahead of print);

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