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Portable sensors for detecting COVID-19 and other viruses

Grabbing viruses from the thin air

Proposed future society. Credit: Tohoku University

The future may include portable and portable sensors to detect viruses and bacteria in the environment. But we are not there yet. Scientists at Tohoku University have been studying materials for decades that can turn mechanical into electrical or magnetic energy and vice versa. Together with colleagues, they published a review in the journal Advanced Materials about the latest efforts to use these materials for the production of functional biosensors.

“Research to improve the performance of viral sensors has not progressed much in recent years,”

; said Tohoku University engineer Fumio Narita. “Our review aims to help young researchers and graduate students understand the latest advances in order to focus their future work on improving the sensitivity of the viral sensor.”

Piezoelectric materials convert mechanical into electrical energy. Antibodies that interact with a specific virus can be placed on an electrode embedded in a piezoelectric material. When the target virus interacts with the antibodies, it causes an increase in mass, which reduces the frequency of the electric current flowing through the material, signaling its presence. This type of sensor is being tested for several viruses, including cervical cancer, human papillomavirus, HIV, influenza A, Ebola and hepatitis B.

Magnetostrictive materials convert mechanical into magnetic energy and vice versa. They have been tested to detect bacterial infections, such as typhus and swine fever, as well as to detect Bacillus anthracis. Although rare, people can get anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products. Symptoms begin between one day and two months after infection. “Class =” glossaryLink “> anthrax disputes. The probing antibodies are fixed on a biosensor chip placed on the magnetostrictive material and then a magnetic field is applied. If the targeted antigen interacts with the antibodies, it adds mass to the material, resulting in a change in magnetic flux that can be detected by a sensing “pick-up coil”.

Narita says developments in artificial intelligence and simulation research can help find even more sensitive piezoelectric and magnetostrictive materials to detect viruses and other pathogens. Future materials can be coilless, cordless and soft, making it possible to incorporate them into fabrics and buildings.

Scientists are even investigating how to use these and similar materials for detection SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the air. This type of sensor can be built into underground transport ventilation systems, for example, to monitor the spread of the virus in real time. Wearable sensors can also direct people away from viruses.

“Scientists still need to develop more efficient and reliable sensors to detect viruses, with higher sensitivity and accuracy, smaller size and weight and better accessibility before they can be used in home applications or smart clothing, ”says Narita. “This type of viral sensor will become a reality with further developments in materials science and technological advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis.”

Reference: “Review of piezoelectric and magnetostrictive biosensor materials for the detection of COVID-19 and other viruses” by Fumio Narita, Zhenjin Wang, Hiroki Kurita, Zhen Li, Yu Shi, Yu Jia and Constantinos Soutis, November 24, 2020, Extended materials.
DOI: 10.1002 / adma.202005448

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