Catalyst Centre News

A simple and effective blood test that can predict avian flu outbreaks in chicken and other farm birds within minutes has been developed by researchers, including one of Indian-origin. 

The tool uses a small blood sample and relies on a simple chemical colour change to see not only whether a chicken has avian flu but also what viral strain is involved, researchers said. 

Current tests require samples to be sent to a lab, where it can take eight hours to a couple of days to yield results. 

That is too long, said Professor Suresh Neethirajan, from the School of Engineering at the University of Guelph. 

"Treatment, especially when dealing with humans who have been infected, needs to start as soon as possible," he said. 

"This test only needs two to three minutes to incubate, and then you get the immediately. Not only that, but it is more cost-effective. 

"Conventional techniques are time-consuming and labour-intensive, and require special facilities and expensive laboratory instruments," said Neethirajan. 

Neethirajan and post-doctoral researcher Longyan Chen wanted to create a test that could be used by anyone. 

"That is why we designed it so that the final colour changes based on what type of influenza it is, and it can differentiate between a human strain and a bird strain," said Neethirajan. 

"It's critical to get out front of any outbreaks. There are many strains, and we need to know the source of the flu. The identification of the strain determines what treatment options we should use," he said. 

The device uses gold nanoparticles (microscopic particles) and glowing quantum dots. The researchers developed a novel approach for rapid and sensitive detection of surface proteins of viruses from blood samples of turkeys. 

The new nanobiosensor can detect the strains of H5N1 and H1N1. With some architecture modifications, the biosensing technique has the potential to detect the H5N2 strain as well, Neethirajan said. 

The subtype H1N1 is human adapted while most H5 are avian oriented, he said. 

"We're creating a rapid animal health diagnostic tool that needs less volume of blood, less chemicals and less time. We will be able to determine, almost immediately, the difference between virus sub-strains from human and avian influenza," Neethirajan added. 

The study was published in the journal Sensors.