Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a novel sensor that detects SARS-CoV-2 without any antibodies and delivers results within minutes.

The new sensor uses specialised carbon nanotube sensor technology that facilitates rapid and accurate diagnostics, not only for Covid-19 but also for future pandemics, said researchers.

Also, the approach, dubbed Corona Phase Molecular Recognition (CoPhMoRe), is said to eliminate the need for antibodies or other reagents, which consume time.

The researchers have identified a modified carbon nanotube capable of selectively detecting both the nucleocapsid and the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, within 10 days.

They also incorporated the sensors into a prototype device with a fibre optic tip to detect fluorescence changes of the biofluid sample in real-time.

Senior author of the study Michael Strano said: “A rapid test means that you can open up travel much earlier in a future pandemic.

“You can screen people getting off of an airplane and determine whether they should quarantine or not. You could similarly screen people entering their workplace and so forth.

“We do not yet have technology that can develop and deploy such sensors fast enough to prevent economic loss.”

The carbon nanotube technology involves hollow, nanometer-thick cylinders made of carbon, are naturally fluorescent when exposed to laser light.

When wrapped in different polymers, the tubes chemically recognise specific target molecules, and can be used to create specific sensors.

Amphiphilic polymers feature hydrophobic regions that attach to the tubes like anchors and hydrophilic regions that form a series of loops extending away from the tubes.

Earlier this year, Strano and InnoTech Precision Medicine have received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop CoPhMoRe sensor for SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

MIT researchers had already developed strategies to predict amphiphilic polymers that better interact with a particular target molecule.

The researchers also showed that the device could detect the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein when it was dissolved in saliva.

MIT postdoc Sooyeon Cho said: “This sensor shows the highest range of limit of detection, response time, and saliva compatibility even without any antibody and receptor design.

“It is a unique feature of this type of molecular recognition scheme that rapid design and testing is possible, unhindered by the development time and supply chain requirements of a conventional antibody or enzymatic receptor.”

Furthermore, the researchers have filed for a patent on the technology for use as a Covid-19 diagnostic and plan to further develop the technology in response to future pandemics.