Researchers unlocking nanotechnology to use in future pandemics

Progress in nanotechnology is driving the development of analytical tools capable of unlocking the powerful information encoded in biological fluids.

Harnessing such precious information will be critical to enabling breakthroughs in the understanding and control of present and future pandemics.

Dr Abel Santos, in conjunction with researchers across Australia and the world are working together to build portable diagnostic technology, particularly relevant due to the current global COVID-19 climate. 

The project, led by Dr. Abel Santos (Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials), alongside Dr. Tushar Kumeria (University of New South Wales), Prof. Nicolas H. Voelcker (Monash University), Dr. Muhammad Shiddiky (Griffith University), and Prof. Nam Trung Nguyen (Griffith University), A/Prof. Ranu Nayak (Amity Institute of Nanotechnology), A/Prof. Sudeep Bose (Amity University), Dr. Sangeeta Choudhury (Sir Ganga Ram Hospital), and Dr. Seema Bhargava (Sir Ganga Ram Hospital) will tailor and validate a mature yet cutting-edge sensing technology specifically for integrated, precise diagnosis of SARS–CoV–2. 

This will allow deep insights into how concentrations of serological markers of this virus in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients are associated with the uncontrolled spread of this deadly disease – with significant benefits for addressing current and future pandemic threats to our society and economy. 

The recent coronavirus disease outbreak and the extreme measures applied to contain it have inflicted unprecedented economic, social and psychological impacts on communities and governments. Effective control measures that can suppress the disease spread, while still allowing healthy population to work, commerce, and socialise, rely on early and accurate disease diagnostics and efficient patient tracking, followed by strict isolation of diseased individuals. WHO predictions indicate a strong probability of a more severe second and third infection cycles with higher mortality rates.

Current diagnostic approaches focus mainly on symptomatic patients and rely on expensive and time-consuming extraction and enzymatic amplification of the virus genetic content, which must be performed by highly trained personnel in a fully equipped laboratory. As such, massive testing across large population cohorts – including potential asymptomatic virus carriers – is not feasible. This is even more critical in countries where the pandemic is still spreading without control. Therefore, new diagnostic technologies that can address these constraints are urgently needed.

About the project

The project will devise a simple, cost effective, and field-deployable diagnostic device by pushing push the boundaries of science and engineering and harnessing our strategic collaboration for: 

  1. adapting and integrating optical transducers in the form of photonic crystals and plasmonic nanoparticles with tailored features for maximising detection of SARS–CoV–2 serology
  2. creating standardised assays for SARS–CoV–2 biomarkers quantification and molecular profiling
  3. generating comprehensive interlinks between SARS–CoV–2 biomarkers and medical condition (healthy, symptomatic and asymptomatic); and (v) integrating cost-competitive microfluidic platforms with a low-cost readout technology for on-site, fast, precise, point-of-care applications in clinical settings.

This portable technology has been devised to be deployed in hospital settings and other scenarios such as airports to create a COVID–19 serological passport.

Dr ABEL Santos researcher profile

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