13 April 2017

Maastricht Science Programme researchers and students develop novel assay for bacterial detection

Researchers and students of Maastricht Science Progamme published an article in ACS Infectious Diseases last week concerning the development of a novel low-cost bacterial identification assay. The research team introduced the concept in an earlier publication in ACS Sensors in August last year and have further optimized their sensor, making It possible to distinguish between eight different bacterial species. Moreover, the researchers successfully demonstrated quantifiable bacterial detection in urine.


Sensor chips are created by coating aluminum with a synthetic cell receptor layer based on polyurethane. These, so-called surface imprinted polymers (SIPs) are able to selectively rebind the bacteria under study. Bacterial rebinding to the recognition layer was analyzed using a novel thermal sensing approach, coined thermal wave transport analysis. This readout method sends a thermal wave through the bottom of the chip and analyses the transmitted thermal wave at the top side of the chip. The results presented in this paper illustrate that bacterial rebinding to the surface of the chip will result in a phase shift in the transmitted wave. In this way the sensor is able to detect bacteria in a selective manner in concentrations as low as 10,000 cells/mL in buffer. In addition, the sensor was tested in a complex matrix. To this extent, urine samples were spiked with increasing concentrations of E. coli which the sensor could faithfully detect in concentrations down to 30,000 cells/mL.

Schematic representation of the TWTA setup

These findings were published in ACS Infectious Diseases which further confirms the potential of the methodology for application in infectious disease diagnosis, prevention and handling. Although, the sensitivity of the device is still somewhat limited, the fact that you could selectively detect bacteria using a setup consisting of two thermocouples, a heating source and a simple temperature-control unit is very promising in terms of future applications. Additionally, a unique aspect of the presented research is the collaboration between senior researchers, PhD students and bachelor students that performed the work as part of their thesis.

About Maastricht Science Programme

The Maastricht Science Programme is a Liberal Arts & Sciences programme of Maastricht University, offering a broad range of courses in the natural sciences. Courses are offered in the fields of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, biomedical engineering and various other interdisciplinary fields. Throughout their studies, all students are provided with intensive guidance from their Academic Advisor (their mentor) in order to create the curriculum that perfectly fits their future perspective.

The Maastricht Science Programme emphasizes new ways of learning. Small-scale education and close interaction with staff and students are keywords. Through Problem- and Research-Based Learning (PBL & RBL) you are encouraged to explore the material yourself and to apply it to real cases.