New chip offers faster virus detection

Scientists in the US have developed the ViriChip, a new silicon device that is said to detect viruses faster and more accurately than before.

A new silicon chip that harnesses emerging technology at the nanoscale will allow the detection of viruses faster, and more accurately, than before.

The device, dubbed the ‘ViriChip’ was developed by a team led by Dr Saju Nettikadan from BioForce Nanosciences, in collaboration with Des Moines University, both in the USA.

The ViriChip is a small silicon chip about a quarter of an inch across (6mm) which has tiny droplets of antibodies printed on the surface. A single ViriChip can be printed with hundreds of different antibodies. The antibodies act as landing pads for viruses, which attach themselves selectively to certain antibodies.

Once the viruses have landed on a particular droplet, they can be detected using an atomic force microscope (AFM). The AFM is a small machine that uses a tiny ‘finger’ to feel bumps on the surface of the chip at the nanometer scale. The AFM method is fast, sensitive and it does not destroy the viruses so they can be further analysed.

Nettikadan’s team showed that this technique worked by detecting six different strains of a virus called coxsackievirus B. Coxsackievirus B causes symptoms ranging from mild cold to death, and is one of the key factors causing the failure of heart transplants.

Dr Eric Henderson, founder and Chief Scientist at BioForce Nanosciences said: ‘This is the first time scientists have been able to routinely apply droplets of an antibody on the micron to nanometer scale to a surface of a material like a silicon chip.

‘In principle you can fit thousands of different antibodies on one chip and use it to test for thousands of different viral infections simultaneously, using just one sample from a patient.

‘This means patients won’t have to provide large blood samples, just a single drop will be sufficient. It also means the results will come back in record time and further studies can be carried out on the unperturbed sample using more conventional, if slower, methods.

‘The technique is currently being used by researchers and we hope it will be available for doctors and hospital pathology labs in the next two years.’