Home » This Smartphone-compatible Device Can Spot The Zika Virus In Blood Within Minutes

This Smartphone-compatible Device Can Spot The Zika Virus In Blood Within Minutes

by Coffee Table Science
During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have understood the importance of simple, fast and accurate detection methods to curb the disease outbreak. However, most diagnostic tests still depend on laboratory equipment and involve complex procedures. Besides the Covid-19 virus, a new pathogen, Zika virus, is found to be spreading in the world.  

Image Credits: Pexels

Image Credits: Pexels

Fortunately, researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A., have developed a testing device that can be attached to a smartphone to detect the Zika virus in the blood. 

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is a viral disease transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. It causes asymptomatic or mild infections, including fever, joint pain, red eyes and rashes in humans. These symptoms appear within two weeks of being eaten. In a few cases, it can cause neural disorders like Guillain Barre Syndrome. Further, in pregnant ladies, it can lead to subsequent fetal development disorders. 

“Mosquito-borne viruses cause serious diseases, but they have similar symptoms. If you have Zika, malaria, dengue, or chikungunya, you just might show up to the doctor with a fever, and they won’t know why,” said Brian Cunningham, study author. “But it’s important to know whether it’s Zika, especially if the patient is a pregnant woman, because the consequences to a developing fetus are really severe.” 

How is the Zika virus detected?

Zika virus infections are diagnosed through blood tests involving polymerase chain reactions (PCR) performed in labs. It is a method to amplify specific DNA samples or make millions of copies enabling scientists to study them in depth. However, researchers used Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) instead of PCR tests to spot the virus in blood samples through the clip-on device. This process does not require temperature shifts like PCR, which makes it easy to control. Further, it does not involve blood purification steps, unlike PCR tests that are sensitive to contaminants and other blood components in the sample. 

Image Credits: Analyst

How does the Clip-on device work?

The clip-on device consists of a cartridge that can be clipped or attached to a smartphone to perform the test. The cartridge contains reagents and chemical substances that can identify the virus in the blood sample. When a patient puts a blood drop on it, one set of chemicals reacts with viruses in the blood cells within five minutes. The device also has a heater placed below the cartridge that heats the sample to 65 degrees Celcius, a required temperature for the LAMP process. Then, the second set of chemicals amplifies (makes copies) the viral genetic material and reacts with it. After this, if the liquid inside the cartridge produces green fluorescent light, it implies the Zika virus test positive. This detection method takes 25 minutes to show results. 

“The other cool aspect is that we’re doing the readout with a smartphone,” said Cunningham. “We’ve designed a clip-on device so that the smartphone’s rear camera is looking at the cartridge while the amplification occurs. When there’s a positive reaction, you see little green blooms of fluorescence that eventually fill up the entire cartridge with green light.” 

The researchers’ next step is to develop devices that can detect other mosquito transmitting diseases other than Zika. Moreover, they are working on reducing the device’s size. “Although our clip-on detector is pretty small, a lot of the space is taken up by the batteries. In the next version, it will be powered by the phone’s battery,” said Cunningham.

The study was published in the journal Analyst

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