Norwich scientists pioneer ‘rapid’ flu test

Professor David Russell of University of East Anglia (L) and Professor Rob Field of the John Innes C

Professor David Russell of University of East Anglia (L) and Professor Rob Field of the John Innes Centre (R) with the flu testing kit. - Credit: Archant

Norwich scientists claim to have pioneered a 'rapid' test for identifying deadly strains of the flu virus that could play a key role in preventing future pandemics.

Researchers at Norwich Research Park have patented an influenza testing method which uses a solution that changes different colours depending on whether it detects strains of human or avian flu.

And now they are hoping to distribute the testing kit across the globe by finding a diagnostics company that is willing to bring their idea to market.

The team is a collaboration led by Professor Rob Field of the John Innes Centre and Professor David Russell of University of East Anglia.

Mr Russell – who has already founded the EDP Future50 company Intelligent Fingerprinting that can detect drug use from people's fingerprints – said their new method is much faster then what is currently available to doctors and can be used with little training.

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He said: 'Preventing a new influenza pandemic requires both vaccination and antiviral drugs administered within 48 hours of the infection.

'Current methods of detection require isolation and culture of the virus and may take several hours or even days to get the results; which can be too long for the patient. It is clear that a rapid, diagnostic test that is able to discriminate between the different strains of virus is essential.'

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The test uses sugar labelled with gold to distinguish between human and avian strains. If the flu virus is detected, the red of the gold solution will change colour.

Prof Field said previous research into testing for cholera was applied to the flu virus research to create a new testing method.

He said: 'We have already developed a carbohydrate-based sensor to detect cholera in contaminated water supplies.

'The sensor is a suspension of sugars tagged with inexpensive gold nanoparticles. If cholera is present it will attach to the sugar pulling the particles closer together. This creates a change in the photophysics of the suspension, resulting in a colour change that is visible to the naked eye.

'We are now applying these principles to influenza. We have found that different types of flu virus have different sugar binding capabilities, so it is therefore possible to use a colour change not only to identify the presence and absence of the virus but also to distinguish between them.'

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