Kylie Veleta | September 30, 2017
The flu season is nearly upon the U.S., and it could be a bad one, say flu experts. Typically, the southern hemisphere’s flu season is a predictor for the northern hemisphere, as the two have opposing seasons. Experts say it doesn’t bode well for the U.S. that Australia is having a worse flu season than normal, with more than double the flu cases than last year. Detection is an important aspect of managing influenza, and a University of Notre Dame researcher has developed what he calls a simpler, faster and more scalable method that makes the virus “light up” red in a sample.
Notre Dame Emil T. Hofman Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Dr. Bradley Smith just returned from Australia, where—ironically—he personally battled a case of the flu. He says conventional detection tools require a blood sample, a time-consuming analysis of the virus’ DNA and about a two-day turnaround.
The method he’s developing requires only a nose or mouth swab, and results could be instantaneous. His technology centers on enzymes within the flu virus that have “cutting” ability; this characteristic allows the virus to “cut” into our cells. Smith and his research team have invented dye molecules that seek out and attach to these cutting enzymes.
“The enzyme cuts the dye molecule, breaks it in half, and the fluorescence that [the dye molecule] gives off changes color from blue to red,” says Smith. “If the enzyme is present and operational, then suddenly, you’ll get red light back. So if it’s red, you have the flu.”