MIT scientists announced the development of a rapid COVID-19 test that can detect the virus in a saliva sample in as little as five minutes. The technology does not require antibodies or other expensive reagents typically associated with protein detection and is instead based on carbon nanotubes. The nanostructures are encased in a network of polymers, in which the target molecules adhere, altering the fluorescent signal generated when the nanotubes are illuminated with a laser. The researchers were able to quickly adapt nanotube technology to detect SARS-CoV-2, suggesting that it could be useful in future pandemics involving as-yet unknown pathogens.
The scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues, with researchers accelerating the development of a variety of vaccines, treatments, and testing technologies that have helped us turn the tables on the virus. However, it looks like this will be a long fight. A cornerstone of the response to the pandemic has been testing, and rapid tests are a particularly valuable tool. When the next pandemic hits, these technologies will help us be better prepared.
“A quick test means you can travel much earlier in a future pandemic. You can examine people getting off a plane and determine whether or not they should be quarantined. Similarly, you could evaluate people who enter your workplace, etc. Michael Strano, one of the developers of the new test, said in an announcement from MIT. “We still don’t have the technology that can develop and implement these types of sensors fast enough to avoid economic losses.”
The underlying nanotube technology was developed by the same research group previously, and it took less than two weeks to adapt it to detect SARS-CoV-2. This adaptability suggests that the technology could be reused to address future pandemics very quickly.
The carbon nanotubes at the heart of the sensor are encased in a network of polymers, forming a crown of polymer loops around the tubes that alter the fluorescent signal emitted by the tiny carbon structures when hit with a laser. The technique is called Crown Phase Molecular Recognition (CoPhMoRe) and the polymer crown is designed in such a way that the target molecule will bind to it, measurably modulating the fluorescent signal.
“This sensor shows the highest range of detection limit, response time and compatibility with saliva, even without any antibody and receptor design,” said Sooyeon Cho, another researcher involved in the study. “It is a unique feature of this type of molecular recognition scheme that rapid design and testing are possible, unimpeded by development time and supply chain requirements of a conventional antibody or enzyme receptor.”
To study in Analytic chemistry: Rapid Antibody-Free Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Proteins Using Corona Phase Molecular Recognition to Accelerate Development Time