Developing the Gold Standard for Efficient Diagnostics

Notre Dame researchers are improving the speed and practicality of detecting disease

To detect an illness in the body, common diagnostic tests like the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) are used. Unfortunately, ELISA takes hours to process and requires expert analysis, limiting its benefits for developing countries and those who require immediate results. In order to combat these challenges, Notre Dame researchers have been working to develop an improved test and have recently published a study on a new diagnostic method that uses gold nanoparticles, requires little to no expertise, and provides results in minutes.

Nur 2Nur Mustafaoglu, a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student and Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (AD&T) Berry Family Graduate Fellow

In discussing the benefits of the diagnostic method, Nur Mustafaoglu, a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering graduate student, lead author, and Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (AD&T) Berry Family Graduate Fellow, said, “The motivation for this research was to generate a test that was straightforward, rapid, and did not require expert knowledge to use. This way, diagnosing infectious diseases, cancers, and more would be that much easier to do in real-world settings.”

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes for Health, focuses on creating a biosensor that works by targeting antigens, or toxins, that induce an immune response in the body and trigger antibodies to counteract the antigen. However, antibodies and antigens are minuscule, making it difficult to know whether or not they are in a blood sample. To overcome this, the Notre Dame researchers functionalized antibodies with gold nanoparticles. When antigens are present, clusters of antibodies with gold nanoparticles will form. This makes the resulting composition large enough to signal that an antigen is present, which can then be tested.

Other protein methods can be destructive to the antibody structure, which limits the ability to test what illness is in the blood stream. Additionally, some methods may eliminate the antibody’s ability to bind to the antigen, which limits the tool’s potential for identifying when an antigen is present. Mustafaoglu’s research not only ensures the antibody’s structure and binding properties are intact, but that the nanoparticles will only clump when an antigen is present.

“This diagnostic method was created to improve the sensitivity of biosensors, yet be simple to use,” said Mustafaoglu. “Our next step with this research is to consider wider applications for this work and, much farther down the road, potentially develop a refined, commercial diagnostic tool that could be used on a global scale in hospitals and other point of care locations.”

For this work, Mustafaoglu worked on a team of Notre Dame researchers, including Basar Bilgicer, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and affiliated faculty member of AD&T, the Harper Cancer Research Institute, the Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases, and NDnano, as well as Tanyel Kiziltepe, assistant professional specialist and affiliated member of AD&T. To read the full study published in Nanoscale, please visit


Brandi R. Klingerman / Communications Specialist

Notre Dame Research / University of Notre Dame / 574.631.8183

About Notre Dame Research

The University of Notre Dame is a private research and teaching university inspired by its Catholic mission. Located in South Bend, Indiana, its researchers are advancing human understanding through research, scholarship, education, and creative endeavor in order to be a repository for knowledge and a powerful means for doing good in the world. For more information, please see or @UNDResearch.

Originally published by Brandi Klingerman at on June 12, 2017.