Indian researchers develops ‘Smartphone test’: Diagnoses in minutes

This study shows a proof of concept to detect E.coli, which is one of the most common bacteria to cause UTI

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Picture: Pixabay

Last Updated on June 29, 2021 by The Health Master

An Indian researcher and her team in Canada have developed a new ‘smartphone test’ that can end the agonising wait for lab results by diagnosing bacterial infections, such as a urinary tract infection, in less than an hour. The team is also adapting the technology for the detection of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, by testing it on samples from C-19 patients.

The new technology developed by McMaster University uses a tiny handheld device which has a microchip to analyse blood, urine or saliva samples for specific protein signature of an infection. The device — which looks like a USB stick — plugs into a smartphone to display the result.

Laboratory test chemical
Picture: Pixabay

Richa Pandey, a post-doctoral research fellow at the university and lead author of the research detailing the technology in the journal Nature Chemistry, told that the objective was to develop a point of care diagnostic test which is easy to use and has applications in low-resource settings.

Conventional diagnosis can take anywhere between several hours to two days because it requires bacterial growth culture and microscopic techniques for bacterial identification. The new test skips this.

“We used specific DNAzymes — a synthetic DNA molecule — that can interact with the components of bacterial cells. This is embedded in our highly sensitive device that can translate this interaction of bacteria and DNAzyme into an electrical signal in less than an hour, without the need for any bacterial growth and enrichment,” said Pandey. The results can then be read on a smartphone.

The 31-year-old who hails from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, worked with Leyla Soleymani, an associate professor of engineering physics, and others to develop the test. The test was able to diagnose urinary tract infections from real clinical samples.

This study shows a proof of concept to detect E.coli, which is one of the most common bacteria to cause UTI. But given its versatility, multiplexing capability and ease of operation, this technology can be developed for other applications such as rapid and early diagnosis of bacterial sepsis or viral infectious disease,” said Pandey.

The DNAzymes used in the study were meant to specifically recognise a molecule produced by E. coli and were developed by Dr Yingfu Li at the varsity. “To detect C-19, we are using another synthetic DNA molecule called DNA aptamer that specifically binds to the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. Both systems are designed to produce a detectable signal if the target of interest is present in the biological sample,” Li told TOI.

The team is now seeking industry partners to expedite their commercialisation efforts. According to Soleymani, a technology of this type is key to bringing high-performance diagnostic technologies to resource-poor areas. “They are also available at a low upfront and operating cost for use in both remote and resource-poor settings so that people can benefit from rapid diagnostics and intervention,” Soleymani said.

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