Green named Health Care Hero finalist for Zika virus detection device

Green named Health Care Hero finalist for Zika virus detection device

July 12, 2016

July 12, 2016

Alexander Green, Ph.D., of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, has been selected as one of three finalists for the Phoenix Business Journal’s Health Care Hero award in the research/innovator category. The annual award honors exemplary performance in the Phoenix health care industry. Award recipients will be announced at a breakfast, from 7-10 a.m., at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Aug. 25.

Green is a synthetic biologist and an assistant professor in the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics at Arizona State University. In this field, he looks for ways to repurpose and engineer biological components for practical applications. These types of discoveries are increasingly moving from laboratories to patient care, as seen by the low-cost paper-based diagnostic described here.

When infections of Zika virus in Brazil were linked to infant brain abnormalities, pregnant mothers became frantic with concern. Strong correlations to Zika infections with fetal microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome prompted the World Health Organization to declare an emergency and escalate efforts to develop a diagnostic for Zika infections.

That spurred Green and colleagues to test if their diagnostic technology – which worked to detect antibiotic resistance and the Ebola virus – would detect Zika. In just six weeks, they had an answer.
 
Patients infected with a virus have very low concentrations in their saliva or bloodstream. By using amplification techniques, Green’s method increases the number of RNA signature molecules from the virus in patient blood samples so that they can be detected.
 
At the heart of the new paper-based diagnostic is a carefully engineered structure known as a toehold switch, invented by Green and colleagues. This switch extends the detection limits and accuracy of the test. Once there is enough viral RNA, the sample is then applied to a small paper strip, where the actual virus detection is indicated by a color change on an array of spots. Readout on the paper strip can be done in just 30 minutes.
 
The test is highly accurate at identifying Zika, distinguishing the virus from closely related Dengue. Costs for the test are only $1 and the test itself is simple, requiring minimal lab intervention, without the need for complicated equipment or different processing steps. This makes it great for quick, cheap field tests, giving frantic parents the information they so desperately need.
 
Existing methods to detect Zika require nucleic acid-based detection methods that are not conducive to low-resource environments, requiring expensive technology and highly specialized staff to facilitate the equipment. Other antibody-based tests can yield false positive results for patients previously exposed to similar viruses like Dengue.

Through ingenuity and diligence, Green’s discoveries are making this rapid Zika virus diagnostic possible for anxious expectant parents to get answers they otherwise would not have.

Green established his research lab at the ASU Biodesign Institute in Tempe, Arizona, in January 2015. He earned a bachelor’s in engineering science from the University of Toronto and, in 2010, completed a doctorate in materials science and engineering from Northwestern University. In 2014, he completed his postdoctoral training at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University in synthetic biology and nucleic acid nanotechnology.