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Novel Platform Detects Coronavirus Particles with “Slow Light”

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 22 Apr 2022
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Image: Novel detection platform performs label-free imaging of virus particles by slowing down light (Photo courtesy of CDC)
Image: Novel detection platform performs label-free imaging of virus particles by slowing down light (Photo courtesy of CDC)

Existing methods for detecting and diagnosing COVID-19 are either expensive and complex or inaccurate. Now, scientists have developed a novel biosensing platform to detect and quantify viral particles using a simple optical microscope and antibody proteins. Their versatile approach, based on slowing down light, could pave the way to new diagnostic tools and next-generation detection platforms that are fast, accurate, and low-cost.

Scientists at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST, Gwangju, Korea) have developed a new technique to easily visualize viruses using an optical microscope. A key element of their detection platform, called the Gires-Tournois immunoassay platform (GTIP), is the Gires-Tournois "resonance structure," a film made from three stacked layers of specific materials that produce a peculiar optical phenomenon called "slow light." Because of how incident light rebounds inside the resonant layers before being reflected, the color of the platform seen through an optical microscope appears very uniform. However, nanometer-sized virus particles affect the resonance frequency of GTIP in their immediate vicinity by slowing down the light that gets reflected around them. The "slow light" manifests as a vivid color change in the reflected light so that, when viewed through the microscope, the virus particle clusters look like "islands" of a different color compared to the background.

To ensure that their system only detects coronavirus particles, the researchers coated the top layer of GTIP with antibody proteins specific to SARS-CoV-2. Interestingly, not only did the system enable the detection of viral particles, but, by using colorimetric analysis techniques, the researchers could even effectively quantify the number of virus particles present in different areas of a sample depending on the color of the light reflected locally. The overall simplicity of the design is one of the main selling points of GTIP. Given that optical microscopes are available in most laboratories, the method developed by the group could become a valuable and ubiquitous diagnostic and virus research tool. Furthermore, GTIP is not limited to detecting viruses or strictly dependent on antibodies; any other binding agent works as well, helping visualize all kinds of particles that interact with light.

"Compared to existing COVID-19 diagnostic methods, our approach enables rapid detection and quantification of SARS-CoV-2 without needing extra sample treatments, such as amplification and labeling," explained Professor Young Min Song at GIST who led the research group. "Our strategy can even be applied for a dynamic monitoring of target particles sprayed in the air or dispersed on surfaces. We believe that this approach could be the basis for next-generation biosensing platforms, enabling simple yet accurate detection."

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