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New Carbon Nanotube-Based Sensor Can Detect SARS-CoV-2 Proteins

As part of a sponsored research collaboration with InnoTech Precision Medicine, researchers from MIT have developed novel nanosensors for the detection of nucleocapsid and spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in an unprecedented short timeframe, within 10 days. This work was supported by a National Institute of Health, RADx-rad award to Dr. Roya Khosravi-Far, CEO and co-founder of InnoTech Precision Medicine and MIT research team, led by Dr. Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Work published on October 26, 2021 in Analytical Chemistry describes the optimized and rapid work-flow for development of these innovative antibody-free sensors. Using single-walled carbon nanotubes and polymers, the team has developed Corona Phase Molecular Recognition (CoPhMoRe) sensors for SARS-CoV-2 proteins. These carbon nanotube sensors provide the platform for fast development of rapid and accurate diagnostic, monitoring and surveillance tests for detection of current pathogens as well as for our preparedness for detection of emergent pathogens.

A major drawback of current diagnostic technologies is long development time for antibody-based sensors, which is especially problematic in the case of a new emergent pathogen like COVID-19. “New technologies using innovative material and strategies are key for quick and efficient diagnosis and disease control. Conventional diagnostics are expensive, specialized, and slow to develop; we need to modernize our diagnostic tests to drive robust public health response to existing and emerging threats,” said Dr. Roya Khosravi-Far, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of InnoTech Precision Medicine.


Antibody-Free Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Proteins Using Corona Phase Molecular Recognition to Accelerate Development Time. Soo-Yeon Cho, Xiaojia Jin,  Xun Gong, Sungyun Yang, Jianqiao Cui, Michael S Strano. Anal Chem. 2021 Nov 9;93(44):14685-14693.  doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.1c02889. Epub 2021 Oct 26.



To develop better analytical approaches for future global pandemics, it is widely recognized that sensing materials are necessary that enable molecular recognition and sensor assay development on a much faster scale than currently possible. Previously developed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) point-of-care devices are based on the specific molecular recognition using subunit protein antibodies and protein receptors that selectively capture the viral proteins. However, these necessarily involve complex and lengthy development and processing times and are notoriously prone to a loss of biological activity upon sensor immobilization and device interfacing, potentially limiting their use in applications at scale. Here, we report a synthetic strategy for nanoparticle corona interfaces that enables the molecular recognition of SARS-CoV-2 proteins without any antibody and receptor design. Our nanosensor constructs consist of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)─phospholipid heteropolymers adsorbed onto near-infrared (nIR) fluorescent single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) that recognize the nucleocapsid (N) and spike (S) protein of SARS-CoV-2 using unique three-dimensional (3D) nanosensor interfaces. This results in rapid and label-free nIR fluorescence detection. This antibody-free nanosensor shows up to 50% sensor responses within 5 min of viral protein injections with limit of detection (LOD) values of 48 fM and 350 pM for N and S proteins, respectively. Finally, we demonstrate instrumentation based on a fiber-optic platform that interfaces the advantages of antibody-free molecular recognition and biofluid compatibility in human saliva conditions.

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