Sara Björk Sigurdardottir
  • Sten K Johnsons stiftelse
01 januari 2022 - 01 juni 2022


By early 2020, the coronavirus disease COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was identified as the cause of this severe respiratory disease which claimed over 1.8 million lives by the end of 2020 (1).

From the beginning of the pandemic, one of the most important tools to combat the spread of the virus has been diagnosis and contact tracing. The current testing strategies are based on either PCR of the RNA or antibody-antigen assays. While the PCR test is sensitive, it is time-consuming, costly, and requires specialized equipment and personnel to be carried out. The rapid antibody-based tests are fast but lack sensitivity for the virus (2) Rapid, sensitive and low-cost diagnostic tools are in high demand and could make a difference in combatting the pandemic worldwide.

This project aims to develop a novel type of rapid diagnostic tests based on biomimetic sensors that were developed at Malmö University. In contrast to antibody-based diagnostics, biomimetic sensors based on peptides or small molecules are less costly to produce and more flexible in development. While antibodies are produced by recombinant methods, peptides up to 50 residues can be chemically synthesized and modifications can be easily and reliably incorporated. Our biomimetic sensors are based on cell membrane mimetic reversible Self-Assembled Monolayers (rSAMs), which are pH-switchable versions of the classical SAMs. These membrane mimics are modified with known ligands for the analyte, and due to the lateral mobility of the rSAMs, these ligands can form clusters and bind to the analyte in a multivalent binding event. This could allow for sensitive and selective detection of the analytes, such as virus particles (3). In the case of SARS-CoV-2 detection, the ligands are epitopes chosen from the binding region of the ACE2 receptor, which has been identified as the main cellular target for the virus (4).

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to be prepared for new emerging viruses. New zoonotic viruses are identified each year and it is difficult to estimate which are likely to cause an epidemic. In order to avoid the next pandemic as well as combat the current one, we need to have the tools ready to rapidly develop robust diagnostic tools. We suggest our biomimetic sensors as an excellent tool for the future development of viral diagnostics.

(1) WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard https://covid19.who.int/ (accessed Feb 16, 2021). (2) Tang, Y. W. et al. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 58, (2020) (3) Yeung, S. Y. et al. Langmuir 35, 8174–8181 (2019) (4) Shang, J. et al. Nature 581, 221–224 (2020).