Researchers have developed a coin-sized device to detect the measles virus in human saliva. Photo by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons
July 7 (UPI) — A coin-sized device could help detect the measles virus in human saliva, enabling early diagnosis to control the spread of this highly contagious disease.
That’s the gist of new research published Thursday in Advanced Functional Materials.
To put their work in context, the researchers noted that measles is one of the most contagious airborne viruses worldwide: six times more contagious than the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant and comparable to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron virus. variant.
Although measles was eliminated in the United States in 2000, nearly 1,300 cases were reported in 31 states of the country in 2019 — the largest number since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC says that about nine in 10 people who are not vaccinated will become infected after exposure to the measles virus.
The researchers described their newly made device as “lab-on-a-chip” about the size of a US quarter, tested and validated by loading the measles virus into healthy human saliva.
“The sensor device is a surface acoustic wave (SAW) resonator – a kind of ‘drum’ with a specific sound,” Marco Cecchini, senior author of the study and senior researcher at the Nanoscience Institute of the Italian National Research Council, told UPI. in an email.
“When the virus attaches to the sensor surface, it changes the propagation speed of the SAW, altering the ‘sound’ of the drum,” he said.
Cecchini explained that scientists can detect this change through a simple electrical measurement and correlate it with the concentration of the virus in the sample.
He stressed that the device is intended to work hand-in-hand with measles vaccination efforts as a complement.
“Measles vaccination is a fundamental tool to prevent widespread spread of this very dangerous virus,” he said.
“Nevertheless, rapid, low-cost diagnostic devices remain fundamental for monitoring disease outbreaks.”
According to Cecchini, the single-use device is not actually put in the mouth. Instead, the patient’s saliva sample is collected and injected into the device. “Detection can be quite fast — 15 to 30 minutes or even less,” he said.
“We still haven’t done a clinical trial, but have already detected the virus in whole human saliva in our lab,” he added.
Researchers said the measles-detecting device could enable “early point-of-care diagnostic applications.”
As Cecchini envisions it, this could lead to widespread distribution of the device by doctors to detect measles in their patients. Or, he said, “It can also be used by the patient themselves, as we do with the COVID rapid antigen testing.”
He also anticipates a possible wider use of the device, in addition to measles detection.
“The sensor technology, which is basically a mass sensor, can be adapted for other applications by changing the surface chemistry of the microresonators [the active elements of the chip],” he said.
“For example,” Cecchini said, “other viruses are conceivable, such as SARS-COV-2, just to name the most ‘famous’ at the moment.”
“In addition, we already had good performances with bacteria (eg legionella in water), or biomarkers for protein diseases in the blood,” Cecchini noted. “We also have an active project in another area: detection of polyphenols in wine and olive oil.”
Cecchini, when asked if detection would work even before a person shows visible signs of the disease, said, “This has yet to be tested.”
As for the timeline, Cecchini said the practical application of the device could take some time.
“This is a proof-of-concept study,” he said. “For commercialization, we will need to find funding for industrial development and clinical trials.
“We have already set up a start-up company [Intelligent Acoustics Systems in Italy]who owns the patent related to the sensor technology.”
Cecchini is listed as chief technical officer and co-founder of the company in the study’s press release.