AI-Nanopore Platform Enables Precise COVID-19 Screening

A quick and reliable method of detecting COVID-19 infection would be a significant step in breaking the virus’s hold on communities. Recently, Japanese researchers have created a revolutionary platform that combines artificial intelligence and nanopore technology, offering a viable answer.

AI-Nanopore Platform Enables Precise Covid-19 Screening
Rapid Testing for Mutant SARS-CoV-2 Using AI Nanopores. Image Credit: Osaka University

The paper, titled “High-precision rapid testing of omicron SARS-CoV-2 variants in clinical samples using AI-nanopore.”, was recently published in Lab on a Chip.

A nanopore is a tiny hole in a thin substrate, most commonly a silicon wafer. It can be a few nanometers to several hundred nanometers in diameter—a scale small enough to function with the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.

Our technology involves looking at changes in the electrical current as different materials are passed through tiny nanopores. With the use of artificial intelligence, we can understand the structure, volume, and surface charge of different materials, including viruses.

Kaoru Murakami, Study Lead Author, Osaka University

SARS-CoV-2, like many other RNA viruses, is constantly mutating, modifying the virus’s features, including infection rates and symptoms. The omicron version of the virus was first found in November 2021 and is noted for its capacity to propagate swiftly. One of the most difficult issues for COVID-19 testing has been establishing the presence or absence of newly altered variants in a sample.

As a result, the researchers first aimed to demonstrate that their platform could distinguish between six different SARS-CoV-2 genotypes. They next tested whether their platform could identify SARS-CoV-2 strains in 241 saliva samples collected from 132 SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals and 109 uninfected people.

The technology could not only identify between SARS-CoV-2 variations, but it could also detect the presence of the omicron version 100% of the time.

The researchers assume that their AI-powered platform detects changes in spike proteins (also known as S-proteins), which coat the surface of coronaviruses. These proteins, which mutate swiftly, attach to host cell receptors and serve an important role in infiltrating host cells.

Until recently, the gold standard for SARS-CoV-2 identification was a technique known as RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction).

Like RT-PCR, our AI-nanopore platform can detect coronavirus with high sensitivity and specificity. However, a major advantage of our nanopore system is that it is much less expensive and has the potential to measure a larger number of samples in a given period of time.

Masaaki Murakami, Study Senior Author, Osaka University

The advantages of this technology are not limited to SARS-CoV-2; because other RNA viruses have high mutation rates, this platform could be utilized to identify viruses such as influenza. The new technology could be quickly altered to test for the next infectious disease to emerge.

Journal Reference:

Murakami, K., et al. (2023) High-precision rapid testing of omicron SARS-CoV-2 variants in clinical samples using AI-nanopore. Lab on a Chip. doi:10.1039/D3LC00572K