Year/Course: 2009-2010, Easter 2010
Project type: Taster
Mentor: Dr Marc Bax

Contacts: Sourav Ghosh, Engineering & Dr Viktor Ostanin, Chemistry
Mentor: Marc Bax

Rapid detection of pathogenic micro-organisms is getting increasingly important in clinical, bio-defence, food processing and environmental applications. However, the conventional biochemical techniques, such as ELISA and PCR, are time-consuming and expensive, and are dependent on complex sample preparation which requires skilled personnel. The problems are particularly high for detection of spore forming bacteria, such as the Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent for anthrax), where it is absolutely necessary to do a rapid diagnosis.

A collaboration between Engineering and Chemistry has developed a novel sensing technique, which enables rapid and direct detection of bacteria using an all-electronic device. This technique does not need any labels or amplification and is highly selective, capable of differentiating between target species and non-targets. The sensitivity capabilities are comparable with the existing biochemical diagnostics and are orders of magnitude better than alternative all-electronic detection techniques. This new method allows detection both in air and liquid and is highly suitable for being implemented in a point-of-care diagnostic device at low cost.

Previous efforts to develop non-biochemical methods have so far had issues of low sensitivity and poor selectivity, so have not achieved commercial success. This creates a good opportunity for the new “Anharmonic Immunosensing” technique. The novel technique is effective in rapid and direct detection of bacteria with high sensitivity and selectivity without involvement of any labels or intermediate steps, and has the potential to be extended to detect other organisms that may be of interest.

The i-Team’s challenge is to identify real-world applications for the device that would have the best chances of commercial viability.