A collaborative project, supported by the UK’s Newton Fund and led by BIOVICI, will bring together the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the University of Chongqing in China, Swansea University and industry partner CTN, to develop an innovative graphene-based sensor. The aim is to provide an easy, low-cost method of diagnosing hepatitis on the spot, and the graphene sensor is planned to be the first to simultaneously test for three types of hepatitis – A, B and C.

The team explained that to date, graphene electrochemical biosensors exist for diagnosing one type of hepatitis. This project, however, will develop sensors for the detection of three hepatitis types at a time, by using three graphene sensors, each tailored to identify the antibodies associated with a certain strain of hepatitis, integrated in a single test. Unlike conventional blood tests, this sensor will provide a non-invasive, quick and less expensive screening method. The ease and speed of this method will reportedly be beneficial for bulk testing of the food, agriculture and education workforces in China, for whom tests are obligatory.

Blood tests are currently used as the diagnostic method for hepatitis, which is not without its challenges: results can take several days, during which patients are still contagious and therefore a risk to the non-infected. Also, the technique is invasive and expensive, as it requires medical personnel.

The team’s approach is to use the graphene sensor technology to develop a point of care (POC) diagnostic for early detection and monitoring of multiple salivary or serum-based hepatitis biomarkers. This will be a novel, real-time monitoring sensor technology, based on chemically-modified graphene, that simultaneously monitors for hepatitis A, B and C. The test will be simple, low-cost and rapid, similar to a blood glucose sensor or pregnancy test, but testing saliva instead. This two-year project will develop a prototype, and establish the reliability, stability and sensitivity of the sensor in preparation for its commercialization. It is estimated that if the sensor is produced in large quantities, each device could be very inexpensive.

Each of the five partners involved in the project has a different role; The two Chinese partners, CTN and Chongqing University, are responsible for graphene device production and manufacturing. On the characterization side, NPL is carrying out electrical characterization and testing, whilst Swansea University is conducting chemical characterization. Lastly, BIOVICI, who develops next-generation POC diagnostic devices, is responsible for packaging and commercialization.