The developers report that their technique, which uses DNA hairpins attached to gold filaments, can detect the presence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – a leading cause of respiratory infections in infants and young children – at substantially lower levels than the standard laboratory assay.
According to David Wright, who is Associate Professor of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University, major pharmaceutical companies are not investing in the development of antiviral drugs for RSV and the other major respiratory viruses. This is because there is no way to detect the infections early enough for the drugs to work effectively without harmful side-effects. "There are antiviral compounds out there – we have discovered some of them in my lab – that would work if we can detect the virus early enough, before there is too much virus in the system," he says.
In addition, the lack of a reliable early detection system adds to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The symptoms of respiratory infections caused by viral agents are nearly identical to those caused by bacteria. As a result, antibiotics, which target bacteria, are often incorrectly prescribed for viral infections. Not only is this ineffective, but it also increases the number of antibiotic-resistant strains.
"Our system could easily be packaged in a disposable device about the size of a ballpoint pen", says Frederick Haselton, who is Professor of Biomedical Engineering. To perform a test, all that would be required is to pull off a cap that will expose a length of gold wire, dip the wire in the sample, pull the wire through the device and put the exposed wire into a fluorescence scanner. If it lights up, then the virus is present.
MEDICA.de; Source: Vanderbilt University