Home » Fall 2009Rigor and Relevance

Nothing to Sneeze At

No Comment

It starts with a tickle in your nose. Maybe a little discomfort at the back of the throat. You try to imagine it’s not there. You hold it in as long as you can and then…ACHOO!

Yep, you have a cold.

But what kind of cold? The symptoms for colds—or respiratory infections—caused by bacteria are nearly identical to those caused by viruses. That leads to the over-prescription of antibiotics, which don’t work for viral infections. In turn, that leads to more antibiotic-resistant strains. Problem is, it’s hard for doctors to tell which respira-tory infection is which.

Until now.

Two Vanderbilt scientists, David Wright, associate professor of chemistry, and Rick Haselton, professor of biomedical engineering, teamed up to develop a respiratory virus detector that can sniff out an infection in its earliest stages. Not only that, the test only takes a few minutes to return and can be performed right in your doctor’s office.

The two wrote about their findings in The Analyst, a journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. They report that their method, which uses DNA hairpins attached to gold filaments, can detect the virus that is one of the leading causes of respiratory infections in infants and young children at much lower levels than current tests. Also, tests being used today require that patient samples be sent to outside laboratories. During busy seasons, results can take a day or more to return. Because respiratory viruses multiply so rapidly, the diagnosis may be too late for antiviral drugs to work.

“Our system could easily be packaged in a disposable device about the size of a ballpoint pen,” Wright says. To perform the test, you simply pull off a cap that exposes a length of gold wire, dip the wire into the sample, pull the wire through the device and put the exposed wire into a fluorescence scanner. If it lights up, the virus is present.

While the research is promising, it won’t be at your doctor’s office any time soon. The researchers are still investigating sample preparation kits and ways to reduce false positives.

photo credit: Steve Green

Comments are closed.