Researchers have developed a portable device that utilizes carbon nanotubes to capture viruses based on size. The device may allow for earlier detection and identification of harmful viruses. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Science Advances.
Viruses can be difficult to detect early, especially when concentrations are still low and patients aren’t showing symptoms. Current methods require a sample with a high virus count to work properly. Yet detecting a virus early can be critically important for preventing a disease outbreak.
Researchers from Pennsylvania State University developed a new technique for trapping and sorting viruses. They designed a portable device called the carbon nanotube size-tunable enrichment microdevice (CNT-STEM). The CNT-STEM consists of a variety of tiny carbon nanotubes, ranging from 17 to 325 nanometers. After being filtered to remove bacteria and other contaminants, a sample is passed through the device. The carbon nanotubes trap viruses while allowing smaller molecules to pass by freely. Once the viruses build up and become concentrated, they can be isolated and studied. The CNT-STEM even works with very dilute samples. The device can be especially useful for discovering new viruses since the nanotubes trap them based on size; current methods would require some kind of molecular label or an antibody that matches the virus. With the CNT-STEM, new viruses can be trapped, concentrated, and then sequenced.
The research team tested the CNT-STEM on two viruses, both avian flu strains. The device was able to isolate enough viruses for the team to detect and identify the strains. The team found that their device was 100 times better at isolating and concentrating viruses than current laboratory methods. The CNT-STEM is also lightweight and small, making it a better choice for field research.
The CNT-STEM will allow scientists to quickly and easily trap viruses for identification. The device would allow for early detection of viruses, helping prevent dangerous outbreaks.
Yeh et al. Tunable and label-free virus enrichment for ultrasensitive virus detection using carbon nanotube arrays. Science Advances (2016).