Rapid Detection of Influenza By Electrochemical Sensors
Contributed by Isabel Warner
The need for fast, accurate, on site testing for pathogens is crucial to protecting food security and population health. Currently, diagnostic techniques for population health are slow and costly – they require samples to be sent to off-site facilities, and need trained professionals to handle and process the samples on fairly slow assays. On-site techniques are expensive, and not user friendly – they generally require a specially trained operation technician.
From a public health and economic standpoint, this means that infections are not quickly or cheaply detected, and can cause huge economic losses. Last year, in Minnesota alone, a poultry infection caused up to $300 million in socioeconomic loss. In Canada, 12,000 hospitalizations from flu alone were reported in the last year. Thus, early and accurate detection of the influenza virus, and food pathogens in general, is crucial for the prevention of disease transmission both in animal and human populations. Here at the Weimer lab, we’re working on our own method of rapid detection, but another group has approached the problem from a slightly different angle.
Biomedical researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, have developed a platform for easy, fast, on-site testing for the influenza virus in poultry populations. The device uses a “immunosensor” – an electrode, modified with antibodies – to simultaneous detect and differentiate between a sample contaminated with H1N1 or H5N1. In trial runs, it was successful at detecting as low as 25 pico molar (pM) concentrations, and as high as 500 pM with 99% accuracy across all concentrations tested.
The low limit of detection and range mean the device can be used to detect trace amounts of virus that could be shed from infected animals, in order to prevent costly and dangerous outbreaks in poultry facilities. Additionally, the group plans to further optimize the device for multiplexed detection and discrimination of various strains of influenza specifically.
The group hopes that their device will be easy to use, and eliminate the need for costly, slow, off-site testing. They’re projecting that farmers would be able to monitor their poultry populations for infection, and trace the infection to prevent costly pandemic outbreaks. The ability to do this on site, and in a matter of minutes, could change the way poultry farmers monitor and handle influenza infections. Additionally, the ability to attach virtually any antibody to the sensor means it could have implications beyond influenza virus alone, and could be used to monitor populations for any number of pathogenic outbreaks.
 University of Minnesota Extension News, http://news.extension.umn.edu/
 Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/
 M. Veerapandian, R. Hunter, S. Neethirajan. “Dual immunosensor based on methylene blue-electroadsorbed graphite oxide for rapid detection of influenza virus antigen.” BioRxiv preprint. March 23, 2016.