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Researchers hope to diagnose deadly Ebola virus with nanotech

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 2, 2014
With more than 6,500 cases of the Ebola virus in West Africa, 3,000 deaths and now one confirmed case here in the United States, scientists are trying to find a way to detect the deadly virus more quickly, cheaply and easily.

Researchers then can flow a patient's blood over the chip and, if there's Ebola virus present in the blood, the antibody will capture it. Field workers could then tell if there's virus on the chip by shining light from multicolor LED sources on the viral nanoparticles.

"When we bounce the light off of it, you see a spectrum that changes when there's a virus particle present," Connor told Computerworld, adding that the spectrum acts as a distinct signal denoting the specific size and shape of each nanoparticle. "The spectrum changes based on the virus. It's large enough for us to very easily see."

With enough funding, the diagnostic device could be ready to be used in six months, but, Connor said, it's more realistic to expect it to be in official use in about two years.

The BU-based team isn't the only one using nanotechnology to try to fight the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history and the first Ebola epidemic the world has ever known, according to the CDC.

In August, scientists at Northeastern University reported that they have been using nanotechnology to find an effective treatment for the virus.

What makes finding a vaccine or cure such a challenging job is that the virus mutates so quickly. How do you pin down and treat something that is continually changing?

Thomas Webster, professor and chairman of bioengineering and chemical engineering at Northeastern, said nanotechnology may be the answer to that problem. Webster is working to develop nanoparticles that can stop the Ebola virus from mutating, and then kill it.

The ability to do that would be a game changer in fighting this virus, according to researchers.

"Since viruses, like Ebola, are nanostructures, many of us believe the only way to treat them is by using other nanomaterials," Webster said in a previous interview. "In nanotechnology, we turned our attention to developing nanoparticles that could be attached chemically to the viruses and stop them from spreading."


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