Annual Meeting

A sensor for fast, inexpensive on-site Ebola detection

Technology requires no special storage; could also be useful for detecting COVID-19
Nancy D. Lamontagne
April 29, 2021

Researchers are developing a new sensor that can detect Ebola in a single drop of blood and provides results in just an hour. With further development, the technology might also enable fast and inexpensive detection of other viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Ebola is one of the deadliest of all known viruses, killing up to 90% of those infected. Stopping its spread requires quickly detecting and isolating infected people. However, outbreaks tend to occur in remote areas of Africa, requiring blood tests to be transported to distant laboratories for analysis. This leads to significant delays in identifying a new outbreak.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons

Soma Banerjee, a visiting scientist in Marit Nilsen–Hamilton’s laboratory at Iowa State University, research associate in Ames National Laboratory and research scientist at Aptalogic Inc., will present the research at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting during the virtual Experimental Biology 2021 meeting, to be held April 27–30.

The new sensor is being developed by a research team led by Nilsen-Hamilton, who is also chief scientific officer of Aptalogic Inc., and Pranav Shotriya from Iowa State University. It involves a multidisciplinary effort that includes researchers with expertise in virology, bioinformatics, molecular biology and mechanical engineering from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.

Courtesy of Marit Nilsen–Hamilton and Pranav Shotriya, Iowa State University
Ebola biomarkers are exposed to an aptamer-coated aluminum oxide membrane. Binding of biomarkers to the aptamer-covered surface sets off a change in transmembrane impedance that is registered by sensors, shown here as four electrodes.

The Ebola sensor is based on DNA aptamers, which are short, single-stranded DNA molecules that selectively bind to a specific target. To detect Ebola, the researchers identified aptamers that bind to Ebola virus soluble glycoprotein, a protein that appears in the blood of a person with Ebola before symptoms appear.

Current methods used to detect Ebola are based on analysis techniques that require laboratory facilities and trained individuals to perform the tests. Although alternative methods do exist, they tend to be difficult to read by personnel wearing protective gear or require special storage conditions.

“Our new sensor doesn’t require any special storage conditions,” said Banerjee. “This is an immense advantage because Ebola outbreaks occur frequently in remote areas where even electricity can be a luxury.”

So far, the researchers have shown that the aptamers they selected work well on a portable nanoporous alumin oxide sensor. They also found that the sensor can detect the Ebola glycoprotein in infected macaque blood serum, providing results that are comparable to the standard ELISA-based assay performed using Ebola antibodies.

“Once our device is fully optimized for detecting Ebola, we plan to develop a multiplexed version that can perform multiple tests and detect other viruses and microbes, all from one drop of blood,” said Banerjee. “We’re also using what we’ve learned so far to identify aptamers that could be used to detect COVID-19 and other similar viruses.”

The researchers are now working to further reduce the one-hour testing time without compromising the accuracy. They also want to make the sensor more user-friendly so that results can be read by personnel without any special training.

Banerjee will present the findings from 11:30–11:45 a.m. Friday, April 30 (abstract).

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Nancy D. Lamontagne

Nancy D. Lamontagne is a science writer and editor at Creative Science Writing based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Related articles

Novavax is angling to win over mRNA defectors
Arthur Allen & Sarah Jane Tribble
Meet Amit Srivastava
Courtney Chandler
Climate bits
Meg Taylor
Tooth decay and beyond
Racheal D'Souza

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in Science

Science highlights or most popular articles

From the journals: JLR
Journal News

From the journals: JLR

Nov. 25, 2022

A new way to measure lipoprotein(a). A new source of metabolized cholesterol. A new way to count ceramides. Read about articles on these topics recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

How proteolysis controls the Legionnaires’ pathogen
Journal News

How proteolysis controls the Legionnaires’ pathogen

Nov. 24, 2022

The bacterium that causes this severe pneumonia has a biphasic life cycle that depends on regulation of protein homeostasis.

Can membrane stress protect mycobacteria?
Journal News

Can membrane stress protect mycobacteria?

Nov. 22, 2022

While working on an unrelated project, researchers noticed that membrane fluidization led two membrane glycolipids called PIMs to undergo acylation.

Dedicated to sharing science
Student Chapters

Dedicated to sharing science

Nov. 21, 2022

Introduced to scientific research through her Tufts University ASBMB Student Chapter, Lema Abuoqab works to make sure other students can have the same experience.

Microbes enhance resilience of carbon-rich peatlands to warming

Microbes enhance resilience of carbon-rich peatlands to warming

Nov. 19, 2022

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers discover that certain bacteria increase the climate resilience of a tiny plant responsible for storing a third of the world’s soil carbon in peat bogs.

A glimpse into the world of lipids

A glimpse into the world of lipids

Nov. 18, 2022

ASBMB’s Deuel conference provides "a bird’s-eye view of the field."’