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article imageNew handheld device to detect drinking water parasites

By Tim Sandle     Mar 3, 2019 in Science
Scientists have developed a new handheld instrument that can assess microbiological contamination in water, providing the results of the analysis in real-time. The focus is on the parasite Cryptosporidium.
The new device, which resembles a Star Trek style tricorder, has been developed by researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus. At the heart of the device is a small and easy to manufacture biosensor.
The low-cost of the biosensor was an important design feature, as one of the aims of the project was to develop a device that can be used in remote parts of the world where laboratory analysis is either impractical in terms of geography or cost prohibitive, in relation to low-income countries.
Detection of the parasite occurs through measuring the relative change in the capacitive/dielectric properties due to the formation of Cryptosporidium-antibody complex.
With the organism of concern, Cryptosporidium is an intestinal pathogen and it triggers respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses globally. Cryptosporidium causes cryptosporidiosis, an infection that may present as a diarrhoeal with or without a persistent cough in immunocompetent hosts. The primary source of transmission is through drinking water contaminated with the parasite.
Commenting on the project, one of the researchers, George Luka said: “Current methods for detecting cryptosporidium require filtering large volumes of water, separating out the organisms, staining them with a fluorescence label and trying to identify the pathogen using a microscope.”
Since this “process is extremely slow, expensive and doesn’t yield reliable results,” this provided the catalyst for developing the new device.
To test out the biosensor the researchers tested multiple water samples, at different concentrations of the parasite oocysts (cysts) in water. The results showed that the organism can be detected at low levels and with a level of accuracy that obviates the need for expensive laboratory equipment.
In time the device will be updated so that the biosensor will be able to detect and quantify other biomarkers and this inform medical staff about other potential hazards in relation to water.
The development of the device has been discussed in the journal Sensors, with the research paper titled “Label-Free Capacitive Biosensor for Detection of Cryptosporidium.
More about Drinking water, Parasite, Microbiology, cryptosporidium
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