As the cost of healthcare rises, researchers at the University of Georgia have designed a new test using gold nanoparticles that will accurately diagnose the flu at the point of patient care. Until now doctors and public health officials have chosen between a highly accurate yet time consuming test or a rapid but error-prone test.

Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine Development in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, and co-author of the study, stated “[w]e’ve known for a long time that you can use antibodies to capture viruses and that nanoparticles have different traits based on their size. What we’ve done is combine the two to create a diagnostic test that is rapid and highly sensitive.”  Working together, Tripp and Jeremy Driskell, co-author of the study, linked the antibodies (immune system proteins) with gold nanoparticles.

Gold nanoparticles, which are approximately 1/10th of the width of human hair, are very efficient at scattering light. In contrast, virus molecules are poor at scattering light.  By clustering the gold nanoparticles and antibodies, the gold nanoparticle-antibody complex aggregates with the virus and any commercially available device can measure the intensity with which the complex scatters light.

The implications of the test created by the UGA scientists are wide-ranging.  As Tripp explained, “[t]his test offers tremendous advantages for influenza, but we really don’t want to stop there. Theoretically, all we have to do is exchange our anti-influenza antibody out with an antibody for another pathogen that may be of interest, and we can do the same test for any number of infection agents.” And while gold prices soar to new heights, the new diagnostic test uses such a small amount of gold that the cost is 1/100th of a cent per test.

A copy of the study is published in the August edition of the journal Analyst.