Cygnus diagnostic kit targets dengue fever

Researchers at Reading University have developed a diagnostic kit called Cygnus that can detect dengue fever with greater accuracy than current lateral flow tests.

Wolfgang Hasselmann via Unsplash

Described in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Cygnus uses microfluidic, lab-on-chip technology that works with a smartphone and can take up to 10 measurements from a small sample of blood, urine or saliva. Working with academics and clinicians in Thailand, the Reading team developed tests specifically to detect dengue fever, which is carried by mosquitoes and affects an estimated 400m people each year. Although most cases are mild, dengue infections can lead to complications and can be fatal, particularly for children.

During testing, Cygnus exhibited 82 per cent clinical sensitivity, beating lateral flow testing (74 per cent sensitivity) and matching hospital-based lab diagnostics (83 per cent sensitivity).

“The paper shows exciting potential for the use of the microfluidic ‘lab on a strip’ tests that can used in conjunction with a smartphone and are more powerful than LFT testing in this case,” said lead author Dr Sarah Needs, a postdoctoral research associate in microfluidic antimicrobial resistance testing at Reading University.

“As well as being cheap to produce, the lab on a strip technology allows users to test many different targets at once in one single sample, so it could be useful to detect multiple diseases not just one.”

The tests were designed with mass production in mind, fabricated using melt-extrusion which can be scaled up to deliver large quantities. And by enabling results to be easily read on smartphones, the researchers hope the system will be easily accessible no matter where in the world testing is required.

“While some people might only recently learned of the trade-offs between home [versus] lab testing following Covid-19, in many parts of the world rapid lateral flow tests are used for a range of illnesses including dengue,” said Dr Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at Reading University and co-creator of the lab on a strip technology.

“With the Cygnus concept, we are tackling the biggest hurdle for home testing. How do you make something portable that can be cheaply mass produced while still matching laboratory test performance? By designing the microfluidic lab on a strip using mass-production melt-extrusion it is possible to scale up production and produce hundreds of thousands of tests. By recording results with smartphones, which are becoming ubiquitous, we have designed something that could be revolutionary for healthcare.”