Scientists have developed a sensor that can test for COVID and flu at the same time and tell which one you have within 10 seconds.
The super thin nanomaterial inside their new device can detect the viruses that cause both infections – and at lower levels and more quickly than conventional options like lateral flows.
It is made from graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms, arranged in a hexagonal lattice pattern.
Its extreme thinness is what makes it so sensitive to any electrical changes in its environment, hence being able to detect and distinguish between the presence of different viral proteins.
The University of Texas at Austin researchers took the antibodies the human immune system creates to fight both viruses, and linked them to the graphene.
It means when a sample from an infected person is put on the sensor, the antibodies bind to their target proteins and change the electrical current.
During testing, the sample proteins were placed in fluid meant to resemble saliva – and the sensor was able to detect them even at very low quantities, within just 10 seconds.
‘This would be immensely useful in winter’
Deji Akinwande, from the University of Texas at Austin, said this suggested the sensor could be used for identifying the even sparser viral particles found in people’s breath.
“They can improve the ability to detect very small quantities of basically anything that needs to be sensed,” he said.
He added: “When both of these viruses are circulating together as they did earlier this winter, it would be immensely useful to have a sensor that can simultaneously detect whether you have COVID, flu, none of the above or both.”
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COVID and flu share many symptoms, such as a cough and high temperature.
Mr Akinwande said the device’s success at detecting both shows it could be modified to test for other infections.
His team’s results will be presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society this week.