(Boston) - A team of researchers from Boston University's School of Medicine (BUSM) and College of Engineering (COE) have been awarded a five-year, $4.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop a low-cost, multiplexed virus detection platform. Based on technologies developed with seed funding from Boston University's Photonics Center, the resulting diagnostic platform should be capable of rapidly detecting - at the point of care- viral pathogens such as Ebola, Lassa Fever and Marburg.
The actual testing of the virus detections platform with "hot" virus will take place at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Led by principal investigator John Connor, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology at BUSM, the research team also includes Selim Ünlü, PhD, Hatice Altug, PhD, Catherine Klapperich, PhD and Mario Cabodi, PhD, all from the COE. Together their research groups will work to apply cutting-edge developments in engineering and physics to the task of finding and identifying infectious agents
"We brought together this interdisciplinary team in order to develop a breakthrough detector system that will allow a simple test for the presence of multiple viruses," said Connor. "To do that, we are working to negate the need for enzymes or fluorescent labels and are building nanoscale platforms that can look for multiple viruses at the same time," he added.
The team is working on two different detection technologies. For both technologies, the complete system will consist of a small "detector" chip containing integrated microfluidics. The microfluidics will allow samples to be drawn over the active sensing chip that will capture viruses.
The chip will then be analyzed in a "reader" that is capable of rapidly reading the detector chips and providing diagnostic information. The system should be able to simultaneously assess multiple possible infectious agents. The chips are smaller than a quarter, and the readers are expected to be the size of a breadbox, making them easily portable.
Early tests of the system will be carried out in Connor's laboratory which will use pseudo-viruses that will help with the development of the detection platforms. He will be utilizing a veterinary virus that will establish the sensitivity, reproducibility and the flexibility of the detection platforms. Following the initial development and validation of the detectors, the researchers will partner with Becton Dickinson (BD), a leading global medical technology company, to transform one of the virus diagnostic platforms into a working prototype. They will send the prototype for testing to the lab of Thomas Geisbert, PhD, from the University of Texas Medical Branch.
According to the researchers, the current limitations of conventional virus detection methods include expensive equipment, relatively long process times and require extensive training. "Under the new NIH grant, our goal is to produce a highly-sensitive, user-friendly, commercially-viable virus detection system that can be deployed at the point of care and detect viruses in about 30 minutes," explained Ünlü.