New disease screening test uses nanotech to give clear and colorful results

The common HIV test kit requires expensive equipment to decipher, which is a bit of a hassle even if you do have the means. And unfortunately, those in developing countries often don't have the means. But science keeps advancing, and a research group from Imperial College London may have found a solution to this problem using nanotech.

The new HIV testing method makes use of gold nanoparticles and hydrogen peroxide, and results an immediate chemical reaction that is visible to the naked eye. If a person is infected with HIV, the solution in the vial turns blue; if they're not infected, the solution turns red. Not only is this test very simple to interpret, it works with very small amounts of protein, which could make it an improvement over any other HIV test available today.

Without getting too technical, a regular HIV test requires a dish covered in antibodies, which bind to a certain protein related to HIV and traps it to the dish. A second set of antibodies binds to the other side of the trapped protein. This second set usually carries an enzyme that can create color, which is then evaluated by machines. The new method is similar in concept, but instead of carrying a color enzyme, the second antibodies carry an enzyme that can destroy the peroxide.

Using this method, the dish is exposed to a blood sample, and after a quick rinse, peroxide gets added, followed by the gold nanoparticles. If HIV is present, the antibodies destroy the peroxide, which causes the gold particles to clump together, creating a vivid blue color. If HIV is not present, the gold particles create spheres, which turn the liquid a bright red.

The simplicity of this method will enable medical personnel to use it almost anywhere, including places that currently can't afford regular HIV testing. It's also ten times more sensitive than anything we have today, and this sort of tech could be used to detect other diseases such as prostate cancer, malaria, and tuberculosis. If you're into this sort of thing, and are on a university account, you can read the research article to get the full picture.

[Photo: Haria Varlan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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