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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: August 25, 2003
Volume 39, Number 3

Researchers develop device for early hantavirus detection

By Steve Carr

Researchers in the Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at the UNM School of Engineering developed a small, portable device to aid in the early detection of viruses, specifically the hantavirus, in rural areas where sophisticated medical diagnostic capabilities are absent and thereby increasing chances of saving lives. The device, an electrochemical immunosensor, can detect the presence of the virus in approximately 20 minutes.

Professor Ebtisam Wilkins, numerous doctorate students, post-doctoral fellows and also undergraduates working in Wilkins’ lab, have worked collectively to create the device in collaboration with Professors Fred Koster and Brian Hjelle from the UNM School of Medicine, and Terry Yates, vice provost for research and biology professor. The electronic shop in the UNM Chemistry Department also assisted.

“We’ve been developing a really portable device, funded by the National Science Foundation, that can detect the hantavirus and can be modified to detect the presence of other bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli,” said Wilkins. “The basic principle is performed based on antibodies that bind specifically to viruses and bacteria.”

Conventional immunoassay techniques are based on the principle of molecular recognition of a target sample by corresponding antibodies. It involves a laboratory technique that makes use of the binding between an antigen and its homologous antibody in order to identify and quantify the specific antigen or antibody in a sample.

The assay technique, being developed and tested for use in the field by UNM researchers, is a qualitative or quantitative analysis of a substance to determine its components. The basic principles of alternative assay methods are the same as immunoassay techniques which includes the registration of antigen-antibody interaction. The attraction of an electrochemical detection of labeled immunospecies for immunoassay is connected to a high sensitivity and versatility of the technique.

“In an age where the West Nile virus, AIDS, SARS and other viruses are widespread, a defense against the presence of these infectious viruses or bacteria, could be accomplished by detecting them before they spread,” said Wilkins. “That is why a sampling of air or environmental liquid samples are important and needed on a real-time basis for detection before infection takes place.”