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Detecting Disease (Influenza) Using Nanoparticles

Last year, the threat of swine flu (influenza) closed schools throughout the country, and communities ramped up emergency-preparedness plans.

For those who fell ill, for hospitals and physicians’ offices and for communities, the challenge was the time lag in accurately diagnosing seasonal flu vs. swine or bird flu. Currently, the most accurate method of testing, the viral culture, can take three to ten days to yield results. By then, the disease may have passed or already taken a life.

And the Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test (RIDT), perhaps the quickest and most common testing method now in use, isn’t always the most accurate. It can be completed in a doctor’s office in less than 30 minutes but cannot always differentiate between different influenza strains. Also, it is reported to miss up to 30 percent of flu cases.

UC chemistry graduate student Yun He is helping to lead a project to develop a new nanoparticle-based technique for the rapid detection of influenza viruses. This new test promises to quickly identify a flu virus strain with specificity: seasonal flu vs. bird or swine flu.

Here’s how it works: Nanoparticles with a magnetic iron core are coated with carbohydrates that bind to the surface proteins of a virus. The varying carbohydrates can differentiate between virus strains, and the presence of influenza viruses causes the nanoparticles to cluster – which, in turn, can easily be measured by a table-top MRI machine. So, it’s a rapid test that correctly identifies the presence of specific influenza viruses.

The eventual goal of this project is a portable, commercial kit that health-care providers will be able to use in order to make a correct flu diagnosis within two hours.

In this research project, Yun He is working with Suri Iyer, assistant professor of chemistry, along with collaborators in the Department of Biological Sciences and the College of Medicine.

Related Info:


  • Ashley Kempher, videographer and editor
  • Travis Estell, website editor
  • Clare Ward, narrator

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