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Advances in Artificial Intelligence can Improve Sensitivity of Virus Sensors

Wearable and portable sensors for detecting bacteria and viruses in the surrounding environment may soon become a reality. But we're not there yet.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence can Improve Sensitivity of Virus Sensors
A proposed future society. Image Credit: ©Tohoku University.

For many years, Tohoku University researchers have been investigating materials that can convert mechanical energy into magnetic or electrical energy, and the other way round.

Along with collaborators, the researchers have published a review in the Advanced Materials journal about the latest attempts made to utilize these materials to create functional biosensors.

Research on improving the performance of virus sensors has not progressed much in recent years. Our review aims to help young researchers and graduate students understand the latest progress to guide their future work for improving virus sensor sensitivity.

Fumio Narita, Materials Engineer, Tohoku University

Piezoelectric materials are capable of changing mechanical energy into electrical energy. Antibodies that communicate with a particular virus can be positioned on an electrode integrated into a piezoelectric material.

When an interaction occurs between the antibodies and the target virus, it results in increased mass and this, consequently, reduces the frequency of the electric current that travels via the material, indicating its presence.

Scientists are investigating this kind of sensor to detect a number of viruses, such as hepatitis B, Ebola, influenza, HIV, and the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer.

Magnetostrictive materials are capable of changing mechanical energy into magnetic energy and the other way round. Such materials have been studied for detecting bacterial infections, like swine fever and typhoid, and also for identifying anthrax spores.

Probing antibodies are first attached to a biosensor chip positioned on the magnetostrictive material, and a magnetic field is subsequently applied. If the antigen of interest interacts with the antibodies, it increases the mass of the material, resulting in a magnetic flux change that can be identified through a sensing “'pick-up coil.”

According to Narita, such advances in simulation studies and artificial intelligence can allow scientists to identify even more sensitive magnetostrictive and piezoelectric materials for detecting various pathogens, including viruses. Upcoming materials could be soft, wireless, and coilless, making it viable to integrate them into buildings and fabrics.

Investigators are also exploring ways to apply these and analogous materials to identify SARS-CoV-2—the virus responsible for causing the COVID-19 infection—in the atmosphere.

This kind of sensor could be integrated into underground transportation ventilation systems, for instance, to track the spread of viruses in real time. Furthermore, wearable sensors could direct individuals away from virus-containing surroundings.

Scientists still need to develop more effective and reliable sensors for virus detection, with higher sensitivity and accuracy, smaller size and weight, and better affordability, before they can be used in home applications or smart clothing. This sort of virus sensor will become a reality with further developments in materials science and technological progress in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics.

Fumio Narita, Materials Engineer, Tohoku University

Journal Reference:

Narita F., et al. (2020) A Review of Piezoelectric and Magnetostrictive Biosensor Materials for Detection of COVID-19 and Other Viruses. Advanced Materials.


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