MIT researchers have designed a quantum sensor to detect SARS-CoV-2. Although the device is still theoretical, researchers have used mathematical simulations to show its potential, and data and design indicate that it may be faster, more accurate and less expensive than the current gold standard technique, PCR. . The system is based on nanodiamonds to which viral RNA binds, causing a change in the magnetic properties of the system and causing a measurable change in fluorescence.
It seems as if COVID-19 has come to stay, and unless the virus mutates to become significantly less harmful or we develop new treatments that largely deny its harmful effects on everyone, COVID-19 testing also they are here to stay. Rapid lateral flow tests have been helpful in providing a quick response on the status of the infection, but they are not very accurate.
PCR is the current standard gold testing technique, but it is inconvenient, time consuming, and costly. Nor does it provide a quantitative measure of the amount of virus present in a sample and may suffer from false negative rates in excess of 25%.
There is a clear room for improvement here, so these researchers set out to design a sensor that addresses many of these issues, using mathematical models to see if their design had potential. Its proposed technology consists of nanodiamonds that contain small defects called nitrogen vacancy centers. An entire array of nanodiamonds is covered with a gadolinium-based coating that contains specific binding sites for viral RNA.
When viral RNA binds to the coating, it should disrupt the material’s magnetic properties, causing a change in the fluorescent properties of diamonds, which researchers should be able to measure using a commonly available laser-based optical sensor. Researchers theorize that the new sensor will produce a false-negative rate of less than 1%, demonstrating significant advancement in existing testing techniques.
The technique should also be fast, take only a few minutes, and the sensor can be made with low cost materials. Another advantage includes the potential to scale the technology so that it can evaluate many samples at once. Although the work is currently purely theoretical, researchers aim to make a prototype as soon as possible.
Once done, even if the technology is not as accurate as expected, the potential for such a leap in accuracy is tempting.
Study a Nano letters: SARS-CoV-2 quantum sensor based on nitrogen vacancy centers in Diamond