York sensor could transform disease diagnosis

Blood tests for the presence of infection or disease could be carried out in real time and at low cost thanks to a sensor developed at York University.

Tests to detect infection or disease require a sample of blood from a patient, which is analysed in a laboratory to detect markers of disease.  The presence of certain proteins can give an indication of a health condition and the best course of treatment, but only one type of protein can be identified per sample.

If multiple tests are required the delivery of results can take longer, which increases the cost of tests.

The York biosensor, developed with support from EPSRC, combines light and electricity to detect multiple disease biomarkers in one smaller sample of blood. The technology could make blood tests more comfortable for patients and enable results to be processed quicker.

According to the University, the new solution combines light and electricity in silicon sensors in a way that has not been done before.

PhD student, Jose Juan Colas, who conducted the research at the University’s Department of Electronics, told The Engineer that the sensor consists of nanometre devices that resonate at a specific optical frequency.

Since the devices are optical, they are sensitive to changes in the speed at which light propagates locally.

Juan Colas said: “When the environment around these devices changes, the local speed of light varies and thus the resonant frequency is altered. For instance, the surface of the device can be modified so it is also sensitive to a certain protein. In this way, when this protein sticks to the surface, it leads to a change in the resonance frequency.

“The novelty of our sensor is that, by exploiting its electrical properties, we have been able to individually modify the surface of each of these devices so that each of them can be sensitive to, for example, a different protein.”

Juan Colas added that this this could be performed in an area of only a few square micrometers, which reduces the amount of blood needed from a patient.

The researchers are now looking to test the new technology in urine samples for urinary tract infections (UTIs), which have a high resistance to antibiotic treatment.