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Dengue diagnosis made simple with optical detection

Surface plasmons are key to diagnosis in approach to inexpensive, point-of-care detection

30 December 2014

Pierre Berini
Pierre Berini

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- Researchers at the University of Ottawa (UO) and the University of Malaya (UM) have collaborated to develop a biosensor for rapid diagnosis of the dengue virus, which affects a half billion people each year. The research is described in a new video published online by the SPIE Newsroom.

The mosquito-borne virus is the cause of dengue fever, which is classified by the World Health Organization as one of 17 "neglected tropical diseases." Common in urban areas in tropical climates in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, dengue fever can lead to complications such as internal bleeding and even death.

Pierre Berini, University Research Chair in Surface Plasmon Photonics at UO and director of the university's Centre for Research in Photonics, worked with visiting PhD student Wei Ru Wong from UM on a plasmonic biosensor that can rapidly detect the dengue virus.

"Early and accurate detection of viral disease generally leads to more effective treatment," Berini says. "This technology could enable rapid, cost-effective screening of dengue infection in people -- and potentially, of other diseases as well."

Current disease diagnosis methods require detection with a laboratory cell culture within the first seven days of infection, but it is expensive, and many patients do not seek medical attention within that period.

The new technology works by utilizing surface plasmons on gold films to create a microfluidic biosensor able to detect dengue antibodies. It uses the virus itself as the detection means, according to Berini. When antibodies meet the virus on the surface of the waveguide, a change in optical intensity reveals a positive test.

Berini and his fellow researches envision a widely deployed, point-of-care, rapid detection technology for dengue that is cheap and user friendly. Once fully developed and successfully tested on patients, the technology has great potential to impact public health and patient management. The principle could also be applied to other diseases such as ebola, Berini says, since ebola is also a virus.

UM professors Shamala Devi Sekaran and Faisal Rafiq Mahamd Adikan also contributed to the research.

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 235,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided $3.2 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2013.

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