Researchers at Purdue University have been working to develop new technologies to help stop the spread of foodborne illnesses by detecting them more efficiently. Purdue recently announced that those researchers have developed a lanthanide-based assay coupled with a laser that can be used to detect toxins and pathogenic Escherichia coli in food samples, water and a variety of industrial materials.
The two key features of the new technology are the incorporation of lanthanides and simple lateral flow paper-based assays, the university said. The Purdue team created a method for combining different heavy metals that, when linked to antibodies, can detect multiple agents in a single analysis. The Purdue team’s work was published in the January edition of Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry.
“Our goal was to incorporate easily detectable elements into a paper-based assay which is low cost and effective,” said J. Paul Robinson, the SVM professor of cytomics in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine and a professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering. “Designing a technology that is both low cost but also accurate and can detect multiple antigens simultaneously was a critical factor in our decision to work on this problem.”
The innovators worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology in the U.S. and Europe. They are looking for commercial partners.
“We are very excited about the acceptance of the intellectual property as this will enhance the possibility of finding commercial partners,” Robinson said. “The potential for moving this to handheld, field-deployable use is something we see in the future.”
The group is evaluating the potential for full portability that would allow for field use in virtually any environment, Purdue said.
The approach uses a high-powered laser pulse to obliterate a sample while simultaneously collecting the spectral signature of the resultant emission. These signals are then compared with a database that translates the signals into an identification of the toxin or pathogen.
The work presented in this paper shows the proof of principle and is the basis for significant expansion of the studies, according to the announcement. What makes the technology effective is linking antibodies to different heavy metal tags. This creates a unique fingerprint of atomic signatures that can be used to determine if any particular pathogen of interest is present in a sample.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Center for Food Safety Engineering provided funding for the technology research, in addition to Hatch Funds, which support agricultural research at land-grant institutions across the U.S.