Portable sensors for detecting COVID-19 and other viruses

Getting viruses out of the air

A proposed future society. Credit: Tohoku University

The future could include wearable and wearable sensors for detecting viruses and bacteria in the environment. But we are not there yet. Scientists at Tohoku University have been studying materials that can mechanically transform into electrical or magnetic energy, and vice versa, for decades. Together with colleagues, they published a review in the journal Advanced Materials on the most recent efforts to use these materials to fabricate functional biosensors.

“Research into improving the performance of virus sensors has not progressed much in recent years,” said Tohoku University materials engineer Fumio Narita. “Our review is designed to help young researchers and graduate students understand the latest advancements to guide their future work to improve virus sensor sensitivity.”

Piezoelectric materials convert mechanically into electrical energy. Antibodies that interact with a specific virus can be placed on an electrode built into a piezoelectric material. When the target virus interacts with the antibodies, it causes an increase in mass that decreases the frequency of the electrical current moving through the material, indicating its presence. This type of sensor is being investigated to detect a variety of viruses, including the cervical cancer-causing human papillomavirus, HIV, influenza A, Ebola and hepatitis B.

Magnetostrictive materials convert mechanically into magnetic energy and vice versa. These have been studied to detect and detect bacterial infections such as typhoid and swine fever anthrax tracks. Investigative antibodies are fixed on a biosensor chip placed on the magnetostrictive material and then a magnetic field is applied. When the targeted antigen interacts with the antibodies, it adds mass to the material, leading to a magnetic flux change that can be detected using a detecting ‘pick-up coil’.

Narita says advances in artificial intelligence and simulation studies could help find even more sensitive piezoelectric and magnetostrictive materials for detecting viruses and other pathogens. Future materials can be coilless, cordless and soft, allowing for incorporation into fabrics and buildings.

Scientists are even investigating how to use these and similar materials to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that COVID-19, in the air. For example, these types of sensors could be built into underground transport ventilation systems to monitor the spread of viruses in real time. Wearable sensors can also divert people away from a virus-containing environment.

“Scientists still need to develop more effective and reliable sensors for virus detection, with higher sensitivity and accuracy, smaller size and weight, and better affordability, before they can be used in home applications or smart clothing, ”says Narita. “These types of virus sensors will become a reality with further advances in materials science and technological advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics.”

Reference: “A Review of Piezoelectric and Magnetostrictive Biosensor Materials for 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, Advanced materials.
DOI: 10.1002 / adma.202005448

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