Unique Sensor Technology Shows Promise In Swift Detection Of Dengue Fever, Zika Virus

Purdue professor of materials engineering Lia Stanciu is developing what she foresees as a faster, less expensive integrated biosensing platform to detect and monitor mosquito-borne diseases. The technology aims to prevent virus outbreaks such as Zika, dengue fever, and West Nile virus.

Aiding in Professor Stanciu’s quest are researchers Ernesto Marinero, professor of materials engineering and electrical and computing engineering and Richard Kuhn, professor and department head of biological sciences and director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Kuhn also led the first research team to determine the structure of the Zika virus.

Lia Stanciu, a Purdue professor of materials engineering, is developing a technology to prevent mosquito-borne virus outbreaks.

Professor Stanciu says that current detection methods for neglected tropical diseases are often time-consuming, expensive and complicated. “Laboratory techniques that detect viruses aren’t very efficient and require patients to go to a hospital and wait some time for their results, which isn’t always possible in developing countries,” she said. “By the time people realize they need to start monitoring a disease it’s often too late and an outbreak has emerged. We want our technology to be able to be the first to detect and monitor a disease so that preventive measures can be taken to avoid or lessen the effects of devastating outbreaks.”

Stanciu, Marinero and Kuhn have developed an amperometric biosensor that utilizes functionalized nanoparticles that specifically bind to the target viruses’ DNA or RNA. When the binding occurs there is a change in the device resistance, which the sensor employs to unambiguously detect the presence of the virus. The sensor can then determine whether or not a blood or mosquito sample has the virus and how much of the virus is present. The sensor relies on an agent that will only respond to the intended virus to be detected.

“We’ve used mosquito samples on our laboratory scale sensor and we’ve been able to detect the virus showing a high sensitivity rate to low concentrations of the virus,” Stanciu said. “We’ve been especially interested in the dengue and Zika virus because it’s the same mosquito that transmits both diseases, so our technology would be able to quickly detect one of those diseases using the same platform.”

Marinero believes there are many ways in which they plan to further develop their device. “Our first and foremost goal is to have a point of care, potentially a personal device, which is simple to use. This would allow people to detect the virus promptly without having to go to a hospital, which would have significant impacts in developing countries,” he said. “However, we’re also working on an autonomous device that is deployable in remote field areas that are difficult to access or difficult to perform in-site detection, to monitor outbreaks in these areas.”

The device will operate through a low-power wireless network and will use thin-film rechargeable batteries combined with thin-film photovoltaics to power and harvest energy from the environment to maintain functionality and performance without human intervention. When a disease is detected in a mosquito sample it will send an alert to health control officials about the potential threat.

Currently, the researchers are seeking funding to develop the technology further. The Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization has patented the technology and it is available for license. For information call 765-588-3470 or email [email protected]


Lia Stanciu: [email protected]
Ernesto Marinero: [email protected]


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