"The fact that a nanowire array can detect a single virus means that this technology is the ultimate in sensitivity," Lieber says. "Our results also show that these devices are able to distinguish among viruses with nearly perfect selectivity."
While there are many ways for researchers to assay viruses, most are laborious and appropriate only in laboratory settings. The use of nanowires provides immediate verification of a given virus's presence without any specialized biochemical manipulation.
Lieber says nanowire arrays could be scaled up not only to detect many different viruses, but also to detect common strains as well as variants genetically engineered by would-be bioterrorists. By making an array sensitive to numerous domains of a given virus, the chances of even a modified virus escaping detection would be very low.
In a clinical setting, the extreme sensitivity of nanowire arrays means they could detect viral infection at very early stages, when the immune system is still able to suppress virus populations. It's at this stage of viral activity that symptoms often begin to appear, but with viruses still present in limited numbers, they can be difficult to detect and treat.
The nanowire arrays detect viruses suspended in fluids, whether bodily or otherwise. Lieber says that any anti-bioterror device built around nanowires' virus-detecting capabilities would most likely marry the technology with a microfluidic apparatus that would draw in air, suspend any airborne particles in a liquid, and then run this solution past the nanowire array.
Lieber's co-authors are Fernando Patolsky, Gengfeng Zheng, Oliver Hayden, Melike Lakadamyali, and Xiaowei Zhuang, all of Harvard's departments of chemistry and chemical biology, physics
Contact: Steve Bradt