1.2 million Americans live with HIV, more than 12.5 million have some type of cancer and 4.5 million are infected with hepatitis C. Researchers at City Tech, which is a part of The City University of New York, are helping to detect diseases like these before the first symptom even appears.
“It’s early detection, it’s fast detection and it’s very sensitive detection,” said Vasily Kolchenko, biologist at the New York City College of Technology. He collaborated with Stephen Arnold, the head of the Biophotonics Lab at Polytechnic Institute of NYU, to improve the biosensor for virus detection.
For the first time – scientists have detected one of the smallest known viruses, known as MS2.
They can even measure its size – about 27 nanometers. For comparison's sake, about four thousand MS2 viruses lined side-by-side are equal to the width of an average strand of human hair.
To detect it, scientists have improved the sensitivity of a biosensor. This device identifies virus particles when lit up with a laser light. The researchers attach gold nano-antennas to a small glass sphere in the biosensor, making light signals from even the tiniest particles easier to detect. Kolchenko says, “It’s all about sensitivity. How low can you go…how small the object you can detect.”
This technology can even make measurements in natural fluids such as blood and saliva. Clinical trials are still needed to prove the effectiveness, but researchers are hoping that one day the treatment could start immediately when fewer pathogens are present.
Kolchenko believes that this technology could one day be used in doctor's offices and labs for immediate results, meaning a simple blood test could replace mammograms, colonoscopies and other diagnostic tests.
This new approach could also identify proteins that are important for drug development.
“The beauty of this method, you do it and you see it. You don’t have to wait weeks for results,” explains Kolchenko.