BBSEM graduate student develops game-changing visual test for rapid disease detection

Vinni Thekkudan Novi works in a lab in Kaufert Lab.

Written by Rachel Kraft Mattson

Vinni Thekkudan Novi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering working with Associate Professor Abdennour Abbas, developed a revolutionary method for rapid disease detection in the field. The test leverages Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP), a technique previously used in pathogen detection studies, similar to PCR tests but with the distinct advantage of not requiring expensive equipment.

Two test tubes illustrate the appearance of the red pellet, indicating the detection of disease in the test sample.

Traditional colorimetric tests, which utilized dyes and nanoparticles in conjunction with LAMP, faced challenges related to color perception and misinterpretations, making them unreliable for quick field testing. These limitations confined most disease tests to laboratories that have costly equipment and longer confirmation times. Thekkudan Novi focused on developing a clear visual test. Unlike other tests available, this innovative approach relies on the formation of intricate nanostructures in the DNA/RNA copies created by specific chemical environments. If disease is present, a distinct and visible red pellet forms in a globular nanostructure. Samples free of disease do not exhibit the red pellet. The method not only promises reliability, but also expedites the testing process, eliminating the need for expensive laboratory testing and intricate sample collection methods. It opens the door for direct field testing of diseases affecting plants, animals, and even humans.

The impact of this breakthrough extends beyond geographical boundaries. While the research showcased successful detection of oak wilt disease—a destructive fungal infection affecting oak trees primarily in the upper Midwestern regions—it can be adapted to test for a number of infectious diseases. Thekkudan Novi also tested this method on detecting Listeria spp., a food-borne pathogen, showcasing the versatility of the developed test.

This advancement has far-reaching implications, offering a shift in microbial disease testing. The ability to perform direct pathogen DNA/RNA detection on-site moves us away from the conventional reliance on laboratory resources, and into accessible, point-of-care testing that can be executed by individuals anywhere in the world. This development emerges as a possible game-changer, not only for the oak wilt disease but for a number of infectious diseases globally, marking a significant stride towards decentralized and efficient disease diagnostics.

The original manuscript for this research was featured on the front cover of the journal Analytical Methods published in August of 2023.