The fight against the threat of bio-terrorism received a boost this month with a funding package of over £1 million being awarded to UK company Nanosight to develop a new method of creating artificial antibodies that could offer the best early warning indicator of biological attack.
This funding package for Salisbury based NanoSight includes awards from NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Department for Trade and Industry.
Current methods of detecting biological agents, whether to give rapid warning of a biological attack, or in the detection of disease before symptoms appear, use human and animal cells and involve taking samples to a lab for analysis.
This is a slow, painstaking process that could be streamlined thanks to Nanosight’s recent breakthrough which apparently synthetically reproduces a version of what happens when the human body detects a virus using microelectronics technology.
One of the first products Nanosight and partner Smith Detection are looking to develop with the funding is a portable detector that can be used easily in the field.
The new technique is not merely limited to biowarfare detection, and can be applied across the whole spectrum of biotechnology, dramatically speeding up drug development, reducing costs for pharmaceutical companies, and also leading to a new generation of high resolution sensors with applications from water safety to homeland security.
NanoSight has already developed a new optical device – a nanomicroscope – with analytical capabilities of individually seeing particles down to 10 nanometres in diameter in real time. The nanomicroscope allows individual particles 100 times smaller than bacteria to be seen directly and immediately through a conventional optical microscope. Up to now this has not been possible in real time and the only alternatives were very expensive and slow electron microscopes which require a great deal of complex preparation.