New biosensors easily detect proteins and antibodies for coronaviruses
Scientists have developed a new way to identify and prevent proteins that form the pandemic coronavirus. They have developed protein-based biosensors that are mixed with virus components or unique COVID-19 antibodies.
This advance could allow for quicker and more thorough testing in the near future.
The research appears in Nature (“De novo design of modular and tunable protein biosensors”).
Most medical laboratories use a method called RT-PCR to diagnose coronavirus infection today, which amplifies the virus’ genetic material to be seen. This technique calls for skilled personnel and equipment. It also absorbs laboratory supplies, which are now in high demand worldwide. Deficiencies in the supply chain have slowed COVID-19 test results in and outside the United States.
A team of researchers led by David Baker, a professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at UW Medicine, used computers to design new biosensors to detect coronavirus directly in patient samples without genetic amplitude. These protein-base devices identify, bind to, and illuminate via a biochemical reaction certain molecules on the surface of the virus.
Antibody testing will show whether a person has COVID-19 in the past. It is used to monitor the spread of the pandemic, but too complex laboratory supplies and equipment are needed.
The same UW research team has also developed bio-sensors that glow in combination with COVID-19 antibodies. They have shown that the sensors do not respond to other blood-based antibodies, including those directed at other viruses. This sensitivity is critical if fake test results are to be avoided.
“We showed in the laboratory that these new sensors can readily detect viral proteins or antibodies in simulated nasal fluid, or in the serum donated,” Baker said. “Our next objective is to make sure that they are used in a diagnostic environment reliably. This work shows the ability of de novo protein design to create molecular devices with new and useful features from scratch.”
In addition to COVID-19, the team also showed that similar biosensors could detect medically important human proteins such as Her2 and Bcl-2, which have clinical significance in lymphoma and some other diseases, as well as bacterial toxin and antibodies to hepatitis B.