UAlbany Biochemist Develops Technique for Rapid Disease Detection

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Source: University at Albany

The Ebola virus.

Most remember this deadly disease from the 2014 outbreak which wreaked havoc across much of West Africa. The epidemic resulted in more than 28,000 reported cases and 11,315 deaths. It took 21 months to contain.

Looking back, it’s clear that West Africa lacked the basic resources and number of health care professionals needed to ensure an efficient and rapid response. Many victims were diagnosed too late or simply just not diagnosed at all. Some of the areas worst affected had only one or two doctors per 100,000 people.

At the University at Albany, assistant chemistry professor Mehmet Yigit is taking the lead on developing a rapid, low-cost technique which can easily detect the Ebola virus, and other deadly diseases. It could be what’s needed to stop the next disease outbreak in its tracks.

“Our goal is to assemble a small kit that can be used for disease screening,” said Yigit, who is also affiliated with The RNA Institute at UAlbany. “Standard detection methods for Ebola, and other diseases, are costly, time-consuming and require sophisticated equipment. They are not viable for resource-limited environments.”

How it works:

Yigit’s technique first identifies disease biomarkers that can found in human urine. Then, by adding tiny gold nanoparticles to the sample, his team looks for a visual-detection. The sample will retain a red wine color if the disease biomarkers are present. If the sample is not infected, however, the color will turn from red to purple when the nanoparticles are added. The color changing process happens within minutes.

To confirm the diagnosis, Yigit’s team, led by UAlbany graduate students Mustafa Balcioglu and Muhit Rana, measure the amount of light absorbed by the infected sample at a given wavelength — also known as absorbance spectroscopy.

“Overall the process takes about four to five hours. Compared to current standard Ebola detection methods, which take several days for results, this is a remarkable improvement,” Yigit said.

In total, 25 urine samples spiked with four Ebola-associated biomarkers were tested by Yigit’s team. Their technique provided accurate results in 24 samples, including in each of the four subtypes of Ebola that infect humans. The researchers needed just one fifth of 1 milliliter of a sample to identify if it was infected.

Full results were published last month in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

“Our study was done using mimicked samples. We identified the biomarkers that need to be detected using a publicly available database,” Yigit said. “The next step is to pair with a virologist to test real virus samples.”

Detecting the Ebola virus is only the beginning of this technique’s potential. It can be implemented in any scenario where biomarkers associated with the disease/challenge are identified. Some examples include detecting mercury and lead in drinking water, determining the severity and stages of different types of cancer, or even identifying the specific region where a virus strand originated.

Prior to the Ebola discovery, Yigit’s team released findings in Chemical Communications which identified biomarkers to detect breast cancer cells. The lab is considering developing a test to detect the Zika virus next.

“We are not biologists or classical biochemists. We are materials scientists developing methodologies for biomedical and environmental challenges by looking at them from a different angle,” Yigit said. “Our approach can be implemented in any scenario where the associated biomarkers and their recognition elements are identified. It has a broad application spectrum.”

Yigit’s research is currently supported by internal funding from the University. He also was the recipient of UAlbany’s Presidential Initiatives Fund for Research and Scholarship, the SUNY Health Network of Excellence Award and the SUNY Network of Excellence Award in Materials and Advanced Manufacturing.

Yigit hopes to soon secure funding from the National Institutes of Health(NIH).

“The funding I’ve received from the University has enabled me to work independently and obtain everything I need for my research to be successful,” Yigit said. “I am thankful to be surrounded by incredibly supportive faculty and hard-working student research assistants.”

Faculty in UAlbany’s chemistry department are supported by state-of-the art laboratories and engaged in a variety of educational and research opportunities. The department’s focuses include forensic chemistry, RNA molecules, medicinal and synthetic chemistry, material sciences, biochemistry, and biophysics.

Discoveries from the University’s chemistry researchers have received national and international recognition, including features in the New York TimesSmithsonian MagazineNational GeographicScientific Americanand The Huffington Post.

Through the department, undergraduate and graduate students are gaining the knowledge and skills needed to launch careers in research, education, government, and the private industry.

Learn more about Yigit’s research by viewing his official University faculty page. You can also visit his lab’s website.

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