A new diagnostic test that can detect a Zika viral infection within 30 minutes could be headed to hospitals in the next year thanks to a partnership between the University of Central Florida and Orlando-based biotechnology startup Nano Discovery Inc.
Qun Treen Huo, a faculty member at UCF’s Department of Chemistry and NanoScience Technology Center, and a co-founder of Nano Discovery, developed the customizable immunoassay technology product called D2Dx. To perform the test, a special mixture containing gold nanoparticles detects the anti-Zika antibodies produced in Zika patients. The approach may offer faster diagnostics for other blood-borne diseases, as well.
D2Dx has several advantages over tests currently available, Huo said. The technology occupies no more space than a small, portable printer. D2Dx’s portability and affordability may have implications for those seeking testing in remote, underserved regions. Zika tests currently on the market require hours or days to obtain the results, and large, expensive machines that are not readily available to hospitals and clinics.
In addition to getting an answer quicker, the test is easy to administer. The test requires only a few drops of blood from a finger prick. Early research and side-by-side comparison studies indicate the test is more sensitive than the current serology tests used for Zika diagnosis.
“This technique has the potential for many other diseases, too,” she said. “Zika is a threat now, so we started looking at this approach for the virus more than a year ago. Thanks to a recent Zika grant from the Florida Department of Health, we were able to greatly accelerate the progress of our work.”
In the coming months, Huo expects the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review D2Dx for emergency-use authorization. Once approval is secured, Nano Discovery will manufacture the test and deliver it to market.
To see Huo’s powerpoint presentation about the test presented at the Florida Department of Health’s Zika research symposium click here .
Nano Discovery, which has the license to the Zika test, is seeking collaborators and investors to accelerate this and other products in development, said CEO Davian Santana, who recently joined the company. He is the founder and president of Vista Clinical Diagnostics and grew that startup to be the largest privately held clinical laboratory-services provider in the southeastern United States. He has more than 12 years of executive experience and several decades’ work in the diagnostic industry.
“After meeting Dr. Huo and examining the technology that she has developed, I immediately realized I wanted to be a part of it,” Santana said. “The beautiful simplicity of this immunoassay is the fact that it is a one-step process versus the typical multistage process, allowing for immunoassay testing on a mobile platform at a significantly reduced cost.”
Transferring discoveries from the lab to market is a key goal at UCF, which is why the university has invested millions of dollars into an array of programs to help small companies launch and grow. Huo used a variety of UCF’s programs. Nano Discovery was a client of the UCF Venture Lab  and is a client of the UCF Business Incubation Program . She worked with Technology Transfer  personnel to protect the intellectual property she and her lab developed and the staff assisted in getting it licensed.
Another key mission for UCF is preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers. For Tianyu Zheng, one of the Ph.D. students in Huo’s lab, the project has made a lasting impression.
“I have learned tremendously since I joined the Ph.D. program and started working in Professor Huo’s lab,” said Zheng, who has already published six journal articles about work being conducted in the lab. “I am so excited to see that our research is heading toward commercialization and we can use nanotechnology to help solve real-world problems.”
Other researchers who collaborated with Huo include Professor Griffith Parks, director of UCF’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences; Assistant Professor Karl McKinstry, an infectious disease specialists the UCF College of Medicine, and Assistant Professor Tara Strutt, an immunology specialist at the medical school.