Scientists have developed a new method to identify unique viral particles based on changes in electrical current as they pass through ultrasound holes, a breakthrough they believe could lead to rapid new COVID-19 tests.
The study, published in the journal ACS Sensors, demonstrated a novel system for the identification of single viral particles, using an algorithm trained to detect current changes passing through silicon nanopores.
Scientists say the work, including that from Osaka University in Japan, may lead to rapid and accurate screening tests for diseases such as COVID-19 and influenza.
In the new method, scientists said a layer of compound silicon nitride was only 50 nanometers (nm) thick, with small nanoparticles added.
The layer is suspended on a silicon wafer, he said, when a voltage difference is applied to the solution on either side of the wafer, the ions travel through the nanopores in a process called electrophoresis.
According to the study, the movement of ions can be monitored by the current they generate, and when a viral particle enters a nanopore, this prevents certain ions from passing through, causing the current to drop momentarily.
Each dip reflects the physical properties of the particle, such as volume, surface charge and size, the scientists said, adding that the measurement could be used to identify the type of virus.
Using artificial intelligence (AI), the research team built an algorithm trained with signals from known viruses to determine the identity of new samples.
Scientists said computers can distinguish differences in electric current that cannot be detected by the human eye, allowing very precise classification of viruses.
In addition to coronoviruses, he said the system has been tested with pathogens such as adinovirus, influenza A and influenza B.
“Raising awareness of single particle nanopores with AI, we were able to achieve very precise identification of many viral species,” said Makusu Tsatsui, senior author at Osaka University.
Researchers believe that coronaviruses are particularly suitable for this technique because their sharp external proteins can allow different strains to be classified differently.
“This work will help in the development of a virus test kit that improves on traditional methods of viral inspection,” said Tomoji Kavai, another study co-author.
Compared to other rapid tests such as PCR or antibody-based screens, the researchers said the new method is much faster and does not require expensive reagents.
They believe the new technology could lead to better diagnostic tests for viruses that cause infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
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