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Photonic device detects Ebola virus on site

02 Oct 2014  | Mark Dwortzan

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"By minimising sample preparation and handling, our system can reduce potential exposure to healthcare workers," said Connor. "And by looking for multiple viruses at the same time, patients can be diagnosed much more effectively."

The shoebox-sized, battery-operated prototype diagnostic device, known as the Single Particle Interferometric Reflectance Imaging Sensor (SP-IRIS), detects pathogens by shining light from multi-colour LED sources on viral nanoparticles bound to the sensor surface by a coating of virus-specific antibodies. Interference of light reflected from the surface is modified by the presence of the particles, producing a distinct signal that reveals the size and shape of each particle. The sensor surface is very large and can capture the tell-tale responses of up to a million nanoparticles.

In collaboration with BD Technologies and NexGen Arrays, a BU Photonics Center-based start-up run by long-time SP-IRIS developers David Freedman (EE10) and postdoctoral fellow George Daaboul (BME'13), the research team is now working on making IRIS more robust, field-ready and fast—ideally delivering answers within 30 minutes—through further technology development and preclinical trials.


In a multiplexed detection configuration, Ebola, Marburg and Lassa antibodies on the SP-IRIS surface capture corresponding viruses specifically. As shown in the images produced by the device, SP-IRIS then identifies and counts each virus particle and classifies it based on its size.

SP-IRIS devices are now being tested in multiple labs, including a Biosafety Level-4 (BSL-4) lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch that's equipped to work with haemorrhagic viruses. Other tests will be conducted at BU's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) once the facility is approved for BSL-4 research. Based on the team's current rate of progress, a field-ready instrument could be ready to enter the medical marketplace in five years.

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