New Technique Uses Light Fingerprints to Detect Viral Infections in Cells

Researchers from Jiangsu University and Harvard University have developed a promising new method for detecting viral infections in cells. Their technique, detailed in a recent paper published in Science Advances, utilizes a non-destructive light diffraction approach to create unique "fingerprints" of infected cells.

The current standard for detecting viral infections in livestock relies on in vitro assays, a process that involves applying chemicals to cells and analyzing them under a microscope. This method can be expensive, time-consuming, often taking up to 40 hours, and requires specialized training.

The research team aimed to address these limitations. They observed that viral infections cause stress within the cell, altering its structure. This led them to explore the use of lensless light diffraction – a technique that analyzes the way light bends around an object – to identify patterns specific to infected cells.

Here's how the new technique works: light from a lamp shines through a tiny hole onto a slide containing the cell sample. A sensor beneath the cell captures the diffracted light, which is then analyzed by computer software. The software isolates specific details, such as contrast and cellular movement, to create a unique diffraction fingerprint for each cell. This fingerprint can then be compared to a database of known viral fingerprints for identification.

A significant advantage of this technique is its ability to continuously monitor the same sample. This allows researchers to not only detect the presence of a virus but also track the extent of cellular damage over time.

The researchers report high accuracy with this method, achieving results comparable to current standard testing methods. Analysis of a single sample takes about two hours, and the entire process is non-destructive. Additionally, the software-based analysis opens the door for automation and could potentially be performed by personnel without extensive training.

With further development, this technique could be used for on-site testing in livestock farms. Looking ahead, it has the potential to be adapted for use in human viral diagnostics, potentially playing a crucial role in future pandemics.

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