Images showing the nano-assembly mpox rapid test before (a) and after (e) the addition of mpox DNA. The red and green color encodes for gold nanoparticles and hafnium disulfide nanoplatelets respectively. The white arrows show dispersed gold nanoparticles and grouped gold nanoparticles. (Credit: Dipanjan Pan)

The first rapid test for mpox, more commonly known as monkeypox, detects the virus within minutes, without the use of any high-end instrumental techniques like polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Current tests require healthcare providers to swab lesions and send the samples to labs to be tested, which can take several days.

The technique uses nanomaterials heterostructures — zero-dimensional spherical gold nanoparticles and two-dimensional hafnium disulfide nanoplatelets — as building blocks to create a platform technology suitable for detecting trace amounts of genetic materials in biological samples.

Mpox virus is transmitted primarily through close physical contact and causes a disease with symptoms similar to smallpox, although less severe. A growing body of research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows people can spread mpox virus to others days before symptoms appear, making early detection via testing a critical tool to mitigate spread.

The selective molecular sensor technology employs “plasmonic” nanoparticles, tiny metallic particles with unique optical properties due to their size and shape. In this case, the nanoscale metal particle is gold, which is refined to such a small scale that it is considered zero-dimensional. It is layered with hafnium disulfide, an inorganic, two-dimensional compound of hafnium and sulfur that is only a few atoms thick.