It's hard to distinguish if a patient has COVID-19 or the flu due to the similarities in symptoms of infections caused by respiratory viruses. Conventional tests take time to determine and differentiate the two since they mostly rely on chemical reactions. Interestingly, researchers have developed a new sensor that can detect viruses at a much quicker rate.

The scientists designed the sensor by swapping chemistry for electrical changes detected by nanomaterials. This gives faster results. And since the device uses single-atom-thick nanomaterials, it does not require a lot of samples for each test.

Deji Akinwande, Ph.D., who presented the study findings at the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Spring 2023 hybrid meeting from March 26-30, said the symptoms of the two conditions overlap considerably, making it hard to distinguish them.

"When both of these viruses are circulating together as they did earlier this winter, it would be immensely useful to have a sensor that can simultaneously detect whether you have COVID, flu, none of the above or both," he said in an ACS press release.

Using graphene, Akinwande, Dmitry Kireev, Ph.D., and their colleagues developed a sensor that could do such. They used graphene because its extreme thinness makes it highly sensitive to electrical changes and activity.

"These ultra-thin nanomaterials generally hold the record for best sensitivity, even down to the detection of single atoms, and they can improve the ability to detect very small quantities of basically anything that needs to be sensed, whether it's bacteria or viruses, in gas or in blood," Akinwande explained.

To make the sensor work, they had to link antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and the flu to graphene. A change in electrical current is produced when the antibodies bind to target proteins present in a patient sample.

What makes the new technology even more impressive is its ability to yield a result within about 10 seconds of sample administration. In comparison, conventional testing takes minutes to hours.

Akinwande said the device they developed could be modified to test for other viruses as well. He and his group are already working on expanding the sensor's use and performance. The National Science Foundation is funding their research to design a sensor that could test for the Omicron and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2.

flu shot
A new study has found that you are six times more likely to have a heart attack in the week after you get influenza than you were in the year before or afterward. pixabay