Human Health: Detecting and treating infectious disease

Research Area 1: Human health: Detecting and treating infectious disease

Point-of-use diagnostics and shelf-stable therapeutics are critical for equitable healthcare. As diagnostics, electrochemical biosensors balance high sensitivity with low cost and simplicity. Biomolecule-electrode interactions impact device behavior but are poorly characterized. We control biomolecule immobilization for informed device engineering, improving specificity and detection limits.

To treat infectious disease, antibiotics are the standard of care, but increasing rates of antibiotic resistance have led to the use of microbes as antibiotic replacements. These microbes are delicate, preventing their production and transport. We have a self-assembled inorganic-organic network that forms on microbial surfaces to protect them. Characterizing the microbe-material interface enables better coating engineering against stressors.

Protecting microbes to protect us. Gastrointestinal infections cause six million deaths annually. Probiotic microbes could be used to treat these infections, but many are air-, UV-, or temperature-sensitive, preventing their production. In fact, the key roadblock for microbial therapeutics is their production and storage. We employ bio-derived inorganic/organic networks (metal-phenolic networks, MPNs) as protective coatings to produce therapeutically-relevant strains with billions more viable cells upon coating.

Electrochemical infectious disease (ID) biosensors. A key challenge in diagnostics is balancing accuracy (laboratory tests) and ease (home testing). We develop low-cost, accurate diagnostics by controlling biomolecule assembly on electrodes. We combine this with our novel disposable electrodes made from food-grade gold leaf to detect IDs. Our electrodes are higher quality and lower cost than commercial alternatives ($0.50 vs. $4.00 per electrode), and, when combined with simple biochemical assays, enable detection of human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, COVID, influenza, RSV, and tuberculosis (Fig 2c).

Figure 2. a) Deaths due to ID in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) compared to high-income countries (HICs). b) MPNs protect thera-peutic microbes. c) Harnessing Cas12a activity yields a sensitive and selective low-cost HPV di-agnostic.