By Wendy Sarubbi | December 3, 2017 8:35 pm

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 UCF 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.

Dr. Huo collaborated with a number of College of Medicine researchers in developing the product – Dr. Griffith Parks, interim associate dean for research and director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Karl McKinstry, an infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Tara Strutt, an immunology specialist.

D2Dx has several advantages over tests currently available, Dr. 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, Dr. 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.

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.”

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