Entry for:Hitachi Social Innovation Awards
Norovirus is the most common cause of viral gastroenteritis in humans. Globally, there are approximately 685 million cases of norovirus infection each year and more than 200,000 deaths. In Australia, over a million cases have been reported with the most recent being in October 2016. This makes norovirus the number one foodborne illness (typically from oysters and berries) and the leading cause of foodborne disease outbreaks globally. Currently patient isolation is the only way to minimise the spread of the virus. Given the highly contagious nature, a rapid way to detect norovirus in food production pipeline and human infections is urgently required to mitigate viral outbreaks.
The detection method should be rapid, easy-to-use, cheap, and suitable for mass screening of large samples to precisely detect very small virus numbers. The current method for norovirus detection relies upon expensive and lengthy analysis of the genetic material of virus. This does not offer an economically viable option for food producers to verify that their food is safe before being released to the community.
To address this problem, we assembled a team of nanotechnologists, chemists and virologists to develop a new technology that is based on simple generation of blue colour, when our nano-chip comes in contact with norovirus. As low as 20 virus particles allow this colour generation within minutes, a number that is relevant for infection to start. The intensity of colour directly corresponds to the number of norovirus, meaning that the brighter the blue colour, the more viruses are present. A colour matching reference strip then allows virus numbers to be determined by the naked eye, without any need for complicated equipment. The concept is similar to a commonly-available pregnancy detection strip. This builds confidence in the success of this next-generation technology to make our societies safer and healthier.