Through the use of specialized carbon nanotubes, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a novel sensor that can help alleviate the fast transmission of COVID-19. report specified that a newly developed sensor can detect SARS-CoV-2 minus any antibodies, producing results in just a few minutes.

The researchers said this new sensor is grounded on technology that can rapidly generate a fast and precise diagnosis, not only for COVID-19 but for other pandemics in the future.

According to the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT Michael Strano, and the study's senior author, a rapid test means that travel can be opened up much earlier in the future pandemic. More so, people getting off an airplane can be screened and determined if they would need to quarantine or not.

Strano added, there's no technology yet that can develop and designate such sensors rapidly enough to avoid economic loss.

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Science Times - Carbon Nanotubes: Novel Sensor That Can Detect SARS-CoV-2 Developed; Results in Just a Few Minutes
(Photo : Robert R. Mercer, Ann F. Hubbs, James F. Scabilloni, Liying Wang, Lori A. Battelli, Diane Schwegler-Berry, Vincent Castranova and Dale W. Porter / NIOSH – on Wikimedia Commons)
Carbon nanotubes penetrating lung cell

Diagnostic Based on Carbon Nanotube Sensor Technology

The diagnostic is based on carbon nanotube sensor technology that the laboratory of Strano has previously developed.

Once the researchers started to work on a COVID-19 sensor, it took 10 days for them to determine a modified carbon nanotube that can selectively detect the viral proteins they were searching for, then test it and have it incorporated into a working model, E & T reported.

This method also eliminates the necessity for antibodies of other reagents that are quite time-consuming to produce, purify and make universally available.

Sooyen Cho, an MIT postdoc, and Xiaojia Jin, a graduate student are the paper's lead authors. The research was published in Analytical Chemistry.


Several years back, the laboratory of Strano developed an innovative approach to designing sensors for various molecules. Their approach depends on carbon nanotubes, specifically, the hollow, nanometer-thick cylinder that's made of carbon that fluoresces naturally upon exposure to laser light.

The study authors have presented that by wrapping such tubes in various polymers, they can develop sensors that react to specific target molecules by acknowledging them chemically.

Their method called the Corona Phase Molecular Recognition or CoPhMoRe, a similar Nanowerk report said, is taking advantage of a phenomenon that takes place when certain types of polymers are binding to a nanoparticle.

Called amphiphilic polymers, such molecules comprise hydrophobic regions latching onto the tubes such as anchors and hydrophilic areas, forming a series of loops that extend away from the tubes.

Such loops form a layer known as a corona that surrounds the nanotubes. Depending on the loops' arrangement, various target molecule types can wedge into the spaces between the loops, and such binding of the target is changing the strength r peak wavelength of fluorescence generated by the carbon nanotube.

Precise Sensors

In early 2021, Strano in partnership with InnoTech Precision Medicine, a diagnostics developer based in London, received a grant from the National Institute of Health to create the CoPhMoRe sensor for SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

Researchers at the lab of Strano had already created strategies that would enable them to forecast with amphiphilic polymers will interact most efficiently with a specific target molecule, in order for them to be able to generate a set of 11 robust candidates rapidly for SARS-CoV-2.

Within 10 days of beginning the project, the study authors had identified precise sensors for both the nucleocapsid, as well as the SARS-CoV-2 virus's spike protein.

At that time, the researchers were also able to integrate sensors into a model device with a fiber optic tip that can identify fluorescence changes of the sample of biofluid in real-time.

This then takes out the necessity to send the specimen to a lab, which is needed for the gold-standard COVID-19 PCR test.

Rapid Result

The speed with which the study authors were able to create a working model that this method could prove useful for the development of diagnostics more rapidly during future pandemics.

The lead author said, "We're able to go from someone handing the viral markers to a working fiber optic sensor in a very short span of time.

Sensors that depend on antibodies for the detection of viral proteins, forming the basis of a lot of the rapid COVID-19 tests now exist, take more time for development since the process of developing the right protein antibody is quite time-consuming.

Related information about carbon nanotubes is shown on Cambridge University's YouTube video below:


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