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New biosensors quickly detect COVID-19 proteins and antibodies

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The sensors could have potential to treat a variety of conditions

Scientists from the University of Washington Health Sciences have developed new biosensors which can quickly detect COVID-19 proteins and antibodies.

In an effort to directly detect coronavirus in patient samples without the need for genetic amplification, a team of researchers led by David Baker, professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Protein Design at UW Medicine, used computers to design new biosensors.

These protein-based devices recognise specific molecules on the surface of the virus, bind to them, then emit light through a biochemical reaction.

The same team of UW researchers also created biosensors that glow when mixed with COVID-19 antibodies. They showed that these sensors do not react to other antibodies that might also be in the blood, including those that target other viruses.

Baker said: “We have shown in the lab that these new sensors can readily detect virus proteins or antibodies in simulated nasal fluid or donated serum.

“Our next goal is to ensure they can be used reliably in a diagnostic setting. This work illustrates the power of de novo protein design to create molecular devices from scratch with new and useful functions.”

The team also showed that similar biosensors could be designed to detect medically relevant human proteins such as Her2, a biomarker and therapy target for some forms of breast cancer, and Bcl-2, which has clinical significance in lymphoma and some other cancers, as well as a bacterial toxin and antibodies that target Hepatitis B virus.

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