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According to a study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists have developed an ultra-sensitive sensor prototype that would allow doctors to detect the early stages of diseases and viruses with the naked eye.
The team from Imperial College London claims that their visual sensor technology is ten times more sensitive than current standard methods for measuring biomarkers. These methods indicate the appearance of diseases such as prostate cancer and infections by viruses, including HIV.
The researchers say their sensor would benefit countries where sophisticated detection equipment is scarce, by enabling cheaper and easier detection and treatment for patients.
In the study, the team evaluated the effectiveness of the sensor by detecting a biomarker called p24 in blood samples, which indicates HIV infection. He also tested the samples for the biomarker called prostate specific antigen (PSA), an early indicator of prostate cancer. The team claims that the sensor can be reconfigured for other viruses and diseases as well, for which its specific biomarker is known.
The sensor works by analyzing serum, derived from blood, in a disposable container. If the result is positive for p24 or PSA, there is a reaction that generates irregular clusters of nanoparticles, which emit a distinctive blue color in a solution within the container. If the results are negative, the nanoparticles separate into spherical shapes, creating a reddish hue. Both reactions can be easily seen with the naked eye.