Graphene sensor could speed hepatitis diagnosis

New technology aims to be the first to detect all three major strains of hepatitis simultaneously

Graphene can be used as the basis of antibody-specific sensors

Researchers in the UK and China are joining forces to develop a graphene-based sensor for on-the-spot diagnosis of hepatitis A, B and C. Particularly useful in areas with a high incidence of the highly infectious liver disease, such as China, the sensor could help stop the spread of hepatitis by speeding up diagnosis and allowing treatment to start more quickly.

Currently, hepatitis is estimated by the World Health Organisation to result in 1.4million deaths per year. The disease leads to chronic infection, resulting in liver cancer and cirrhosis which lead to a million deaths per year, 40 per cent of which are in China. Diagnosis is currently by blood test, but this takes five to seven days, during which patients are still infectious. Moreover, because blood tests require trained medical personnel, they are expensive.

Graphene can be tailored to detect the antibodies associated with specific strains of hepatitis, and sensors currently exist to detect one strain. The new research, involving the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and National Measurement Institute; the University of Chongqing; Swansea University; and Chinese industry partner CTN, aims to integrate graphene sensors for hepatitis A, B and C in a single device that can be used on a patient’s saliva and will give a fast, non-invasive test that can be administered by non-medically trained personnel. The researchers are aiming for a device similar to a blood-glucose meter or pregnancy test.

The two Chinese partners in the project, which is supported by the UK’s Newton Fund, a charity that aims to promote the economic development and social welfare of partner countries by strengthening science and innovation capacity, are responsible for graphene device production and manufacturing, while NPL is carrying out electrical characterisation and testing, and Swansea University is conducting chemical characterisation. Another partner, Swansea-based point-of-care device developer BIOVICI, is responsible for packaging and commercialisation.

“Graphene’s unique characteristics mean it has great potential to be used in a variety of sensing applications. In addition to hepatitis, it could be used in other similar tests, including allergen sensors, pollutant identification and other life sciences applications,” said Dr Olga Kazakova, principle research scientist in advanced materials at NPL. “It is imperative for us to understand the exact characteristics of the material to be able to assess how it can be manufactured and used in these different applications. Through this research, we are working to develop international standards for graphene which will help to unlock new applications for the incredible material.”

BIOVICI chief executive Paul Morgan commented : “Many people associate hepatitis as a problem that happens elsewhere and not in their home country. However, hepatitis is a global epidemic which is rapidly affecting parts of the UK, throughout Europe and the USA.”

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