Leveraging nanoparticles and digital health technology, researchers have transformed a smartphone into a device capable of detecting Zika in a rapid, low-cost test that could potentially be deployed in resource-limited settings.
The tool could also provide home testing for couples who are trying to conceive, particularly in locations with high risk of the infection.
"Zika diagnostics represent an urgent need in many parts of the world. Our goal is to address this unmet clinical need using cell-phone-based technology," said lead researcher Hadi Shafiee of the Brigham and Women's Hospital in the US.
Researchers developed tiny platinum nanomotors that target Zika as well as microbeads that bind the virus. When both components are added to a sample containing Zika, they form a 3D complex that moves in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. This movement can be detected using a smartphone hooked up to a low-cost optical device.
This approach -- known as the nanomotor-based bead-motion cellphone (NBC) system -- detected Zika in samples with viral concentrations as low as one particle per microlitre.
The system was able to accurately detect Zika, even in the presence of other viruses through the uniqueness of the motion signal, the researchers said, in a paper detailed in the journal ACS Nano.
"The NBC system has the potential to be used at the point of care for disease detection in both developed and developing countries," said Mohamed Shehata Draz, from the varsity.
"This is an important way to eliminate the social stress related to Zika virus infection and health problems specifically related to newborns," Draz said.
The new work highlights the potential of using cell phone technology for viral diagnostics, and the research team plans to further explore and apply the approach to other viruses.