Nanodiamonds could help improve diagnostic tests to detect disease

Researchers at UCL have conducted tests that found the quantum sensing abilities of nanodiamonds can be used to increase the sensitivity of paper-based diagnostic tests. Researchers say nanodiamonds could allow for earlier detection of diseases such as HIV. Paper-based lateral flow tests work the same way as a pregnancy test.

A strip of paper is soaked in a fluid sample and changes color, indicating a positive test result when detecting virus proteins or DNA. The sort of test is widely used to detect a range of viruses ranging from HIV to SARS-CoV-2 and provides a rapid diagnosis that doesn't have to be processed in a lab.

New research shows that low-cost nanodiamonds can be used to signal the presence of an HIV disease marker with a sensitivity many thousands of times greater than gold nanoparticles commonly used in these tests. The increased sensitivity will allow lower viral loads to be detected so the test could pick up lower disease levels and detect the disease at an earlier stage.

Earlier detection is critical for reducing the transmission risk for infected individuals to treat a disease like HIV effectively. The researchers are currently working on adapting the new technology to test for COVID-19 and other diseases over the coming months. One of the key portions that scientists are working on is developing a hand-held device to read the results.

The technique was demonstrated using a microscope and laboratory. Researchers also plan further clinical evaluation studies in the future. Researcher Rachel McKendry says that the proof of concept study shows that quantum technologies can detect ultra-low levels of the virus in a patient sample. Researchers note that while they have focused on detecting HIV, the approach is flexible and can be easily adapted to other diseases and biomarker types.