A Moment of Science

Results As Good As Gold

Current tests to diagnose influenza are either lengthy and expensive or quick and inaccurate. A new method promises accurate results quickly and cheaply.

A magnified image of a cluster of flu virus, stained green

Photo: Noticias de tu Ciudad (Flickr)

Magnified AH1N1 virus

Feeling all stuffed up? Fatigued and achy? If so, you may have the flu. But chances are that if you go to the doctor your condition will be diagnosed based only on the symptoms you are experiencing.

Current Diagnostic Methods

There are tests that can diagnose the flu. The most reliable tests involve viral cultures and must be performed in a lab. These tests can take a while though, producing results in 3 – 10 days. That might seem like a long time when you’re sick.

There is a type of test that can produce a result in as little as 15 minutes and can be performed in a doctor’s office, but it produces false negatives often enough to cause concern among professionals. Another limitation is that this type of test cannot distinguish between flu subtypes.

Accurate Results – Fast And Cheap

Fortunately, scientists at the University of Georgia have developed a new testing technique that can detect flu viruses quickly, accurately, and cheaply.

This new technique involves nanoparticles of gold and flu antibodies. The scientists mix gold nanoparticles and known antibodies and use this mixture to capture any flu virus that may be present in a biological sample.

Next, a machine is used to measure how light that is shined on the solution of gold, antibodies, and virus scatters. Gold nanoparticles are very good at scattering light, while biological materials such as antibodies and viruses are not.

This means that the light that is shined on the solution with the biological materials will scatter differently than light shined only on gold nanoparticles. The way the light scatters tells scientists which flu virus is present.

Benefits Of The New Test

Since only a small amount of gold is needed, each test costs a fraction of a penny. The machine that conducts the analysis is small and easy to use, so it could be available at every doctor’s office. This cheap and accurate test could help to stop the spread of the flu early and quickly identify dangerous flu outbreaks in a fraction of the time it currently takes.

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Erin Sweany

Erin is a graduate student at Indiana University studying early English medical texts. Erin has studied both science and literature throughout her academic career. She loves science for what it tells us about our world and literature for what it tells us about our culture. Erin combines these interests in her scholarship and writing as much as possible.

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