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Long before COVID-19, when Ebola and Zika virus were major challenges, the European Commission went in search of a novel and rapid technology to better identify viruses in humans. As part of its Horizon 2020 project, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Madrid asked TNO to contribute to this Future & Emerging Technology. And today, TNO is helping to bring the project closer to a game-changing advancement in viral identification.
Standard testing for viral infection currently relies on Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests to confirm diagnosis of a specific, suspected viral infection. But PCR testing does not identify multiple viruses in a sample, nor does it indicate viral load or infectivity. The European Commission offered CSIC the opportunity to develop a faster, more versatile method for identifying viruses more completely.
ViruScan aims to enable personalised treatment for those suffering from multiple infections. The technology can also potentially reduce the use of ineffective antibiotics and viral inhibitors, increase blood transfusion safety, and offer a reliable response to emergency outbreaks of viruses like Ebola, Zika, coronavirus and novel virus strains.
CSIC approached TNO based on our respectable technical expertise on nano optomechatronics and integrated nanophotonics. TNO is committed to contributing to European innovation in any way possible. So when CSIC called on TNO for assistance with ViruScan, our optomechatronics and optics teams got to work to identify and realise a solution.
Viruses have specific physical properties, such as mass and stiffness. In the ViruScan project, CSIC’s aim is to develop a device sensitive enough to identify individual viruses based on their physical properties. And for that, they needed the most sensitive scales ever developed.
Viruses are around 1/100 the size of a human cell, in the order of an attogram (10-21 kg). And until now, no technology was capable of detecting the mass and stiffness of individual nanoparticles. But TNO’s expertise in optomechatronics will make it possible to detect mass and stiffness of individual viruses. ViruScan is close to developing the technology to not only identify the viruses present in a sample, but also their infective potential and viral load.
With this information, medical professionals will be able to accurately identify viruses more rapidly, and account for variations in infectivity and viral load to adjust the right treatment for patients. Instead of confirming suspicions using PCR testing, ViruScan will allow precision diagnostics based on actual viral presence in a sample.
By assisting CSIC in its ViruScan work, TNO also advances its own knowledge and understanding of the application of optomechatronics and integrated nanophotonics for medical diagnostics and other industry breakthroughs. By sharing knowledge and resources with other leading European innovators, TNO advances both its own innovation objectives, and the EU’s work on technologies that benefit society.
ViruScan and its related technologies have been recognised no fewer than six times on the European Commission’s Innovation Radar. Not only the development of the ViruScan device, but the team’s work on developing the most complete database of the biophysical properties of viruses and how they relate to infectivity have been recognised as Key Innovators. TNO has therefore contributed to Future & Emerging Technologies that can impact health for people around the world.