The need for accurate, rapid and sensitive detection of bio-molecules is becoming ever more pressing. The aforementioned are needed in several industries,  ranging from clinical diagnostics and screening to assessing microbial contamination in water and even plant disease diagnostics, to name just a few.

There is a profusion of existing diagnostic and screening solutions currently available on the market.  However, they are all based on different, expensive technologies, with varying degrees of specificity and sensitivity. To mitigate this, researchers at  Stellenbosch University have developed an extremely versatile, highly sensitive and specific platform nano- biosensor technology which can be adapted to a whole host of rapid diagnostic and screening applications.

Moreover, the technology is of such a nature that these bespoke nano-biosensors can be constructed from relatively inexpensive materials, with a comparatively small footprint, making them ideal for incorporation into single-use or disposable sensing, screening or diagnostic tests. This could limit the need for large,  prohibitively expensive diagnostic/screening equipment/  instrumentation. These nano-biosensors are ideally suited for use as so-called point-of-care/point-of-use devices and require minimal sample input and sample manipulation when compared to traditional modalities.  A further advantage of these devices is their ease of use – allowing individuals, not necessarily skilled in molecular diagnostics, to run whatever test is needed after receiving minimal training.

Moreover, these nano-biosensors can connect to the Internet of Things (IoT)  and exchange data. This connectivity allows  for the end-user, who may be a primary

healthcare worker (nurse), to use the device/  test in rural or resource-limited areas  without having to be concerned with the  logistics associated with traditional pathology  laboratory-based testing (transporting  samples to a centralised pathology lab; waiting  for the test to be run; waiting for a consulting  pathologist to interpret test results and only  then communicating this back to the primary  healthcare facility). The consulting physician would have near-instantaneous remote access to the test results, and in conjunction with the primary healthcare worker, could make a quick call on a course of treatment or referral to a specialist. Additionally, the IoT aspect of these nano-biosensors could improve the way conditions are monitored  (following a course of treatment) and could enhance communicable/infectious disease surveillance capabilities across the board (not only in humans but also veterinary and plant infectious disease).


At present, the SU researchers are working  on several different applications of

the aforementioned platform technology,  examples of which are as follows:

•Detection of bacterial contaminants  in water

•Autophagic flux measurement – which is  of great relevance in the context of cancer  and neurodegenerative disease

•Screening for specific inflammatory  biomolecules in human blood that are  upregulated in a host of inflammatory  conditions, of which cancer is one

•Assessment of human platelet function

•Post-harvest disease diagnostics in  pomegranates

•The lead researchers are also evaluating several applications in human infectious disease diagnostics, with a  current focus on HIV and Tuberculosis.


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