New graphene sensor to improve hepatitis diagnosis


New technology will be first of its kind to use ‘wonder material’ to offer a more-effective, low-cost and rapid approach to detecting and treating global health problem

A new UK-China collaborative project is developing a sensor to provide an easy, low-cost method of diagnosing hepatitis on the spot using graphene – an advanced 2D material known for its high electrical conductivity.

The sensor will be the first to simultaneously test for three types of hepatitis – A, B and C – out of the five types that exist.

The multi-partner project, supported by the UK’s Newton Fund and led by BIOVICI, will bring together the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK’s National Measurement Institute; the University of Chongqing; Swansea University; and industry partner CTN, to develop this new diagnostic technology.

Hepatitis is a huge global health problem, with nearly 400 million people worldwide affected.

The World Health Organization has reported that 257 million people are infected with hepatitis B alone.

Those affected suffer chronic infection, resulting in one million deaths a year from liver cirrhosis and cancer, with 40% of those deaths occurring in China.

Blood tests are currently used as the diagnostic method for hepatitis, but there are challenges associated with this.

Results can take five to seven days, during which patients are still contagious and, therefore, a risk to the non infected. Moreover, the technique is invasive and expensive, as it requires medical personnel.

Graphene is a 2D material with unique electrical and mechanical properties, which derive from its one-atom-thick structure.

The material’s exceptional electronic characteristics, surface sensitivity, and selectivity make it ideal for sensor applications, including those used for medical diagnosis.

To date, graphene electrochemical biosensors exist for diagnosing one type of hepatitis.

This project, however, will develop sensors for the detection of three hepatitis types at a time, by using three graphene sensors, each tailored to identify the antibodies associated with a certain strain of hepatitis, integrated in a single test.

With the right lab-on-chip technology, there is the potential to develop sensors for a host of diagnostic and screening applications

Unlike conventional blood tests, this sensor will provide a non-invasive, quick and less-expensive screening method.

The team’s approach is to use the graphene sensor technology to develop a point of care (POC) diagnostic for early detection and monitoring of multiple salivary or serum-based hepatitis biomarkers.

This will be a novel, real-time monitoring sensor technology, based on chemically-modified graphene, that simultaneously monitors for hepatitis A, B and C.

The test will be simple, low-cost and rapid, similar to a blood glucose sensor or pregnancy test, but testing saliva instead.

This two-year project will develop a prototype, and establish the reliability, stability and sensitivity of the sensor in preparation for its commercialisation.

It is estimated that if the sensor is produced in large quantities, each device could cost as little as £1.

Professor Owen Guy, Director (Engineering) at the Centre for NanoHealth at Swansea University, said: “Using semiconductor process technology applied to graphene enables us to make low-cost sensors.

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“With the right lab-on-chip technology, there is the potential to develop sensors for a host of diagnostic and screening applications.”