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DNA nanomachine detects HIV antibodies in minutes, not hours

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Current methods for detecting the antibodies that indicate HIV infection are agonizingly slow and cumbersome. However a new DNA nanomachine developed by an international team of researchers (and funded, in part, by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) could shorten the process to a matter of minutes.

The DNA-based nanomachine is designed and synthesized to recognize and bind with a specific target antibody, even within biologically-dense and complex samples like blood. When these "machines" do bind with the target antibody, the joining causes a structural change that generates a little burst of light. A test that used to require hours of careful, complex and downright expensive prep-work could now take as little as five minutes. And the sooner that doctors are aware of the infection, the sooner they can start treating it. What's more, these nanomachines can easily be customized to detect a wide variety of antibodies.

"Our modular platform provides significant advantages over existing methods for the detection of antibodies," Prof. Vallée-Bélisle of the University of Montreal, a senior co-author of the paper, said in a statement. "It is rapid, does not require reagent chemicals, and may prove to be useful in a range of different applications such as point-of-care diagnostics and bioimaging."

The team hopes to further develop the technology, making the signals even easier to detect. "For example, we could adapt our platform so that the signal of the nanoswitch may be read using a mobile phone," Simona Ranallo, University of Rome PhD student and first-author of the paper, said in a statement. "This will make our approach really available to anyone! We are working on this idea and we would like to start involving diagnostic companies."

[Image Credit: lede - LightRocket via Getty Images, inline - Marco Tripodi]

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