Biohazard Detection May Be a Wipe Away

Nanotechnology napkins would alert users to danger, scientists say

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MONDAY, Sept. 11, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A high-tech "napkin" under development may prove a quick means of detecting and identifying bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous substances, U.S. researchers report.

According to a team at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., the absorbent wipes would be embedded with nanofibers that contain antibodies to different kinds of biohazards. The scientists say the wipes could be used by virtually anyone to quickly detect pathogens in hospitals, meat packing plants, airplanes, cruise ships, and other commonly contaminated areas.

The Cornell team's research was presented Monday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, in San Francisco.

"It's very inexpensive, it wouldn't require that someone be highly trained to use it, and it can be activated for whatever you want to find," Margaret Frey, assistant professor of textiles and apparel, said in a prepared statement. "So, if you're working in a meat packing plant, for instance, you could swipe it across some hamburger and quickly and easily detect E. coli bacteria."

If the wipes detect a potentially dangerous substance, the area could be cleaned and re-tested with the wipes to confirm that the dangerous substance is no longer present.

Currently, pathogens collected by the wipes have to be analyzed in a separate step. But the researchers are trying to develop ways, such as color changes in the wipe's fabric, that would instantly identify a substance.

"We're probably still a few years away from having this ready for the real world," Frey said.

More information

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SOURCE: American Chemical Society, news release, Sept. 11, 2006

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