A “chemical nose” biosensor for detecting proteins in complex mixtures†
A growing understanding of the fundamental role of proteins in diseases has advanced the development of quantitative protein assays in the medical field. Current techniques for protein analysis include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA), flow cytometry, mass spectrometry, and immunohistochemistry. However, many of these conventional strategies require specialized training, expensive antibodies, or sophisticated equipment, raising assay costs and limiting their application to laboratory analysis. Here, we present the application of a “chemical nose” type colorimetric gold nanoparticle sensor for detection, quantification, and identification of single proteins, protein mixtures, and proteins within the complex environment of human serum. The unique interactions between a mixture of two different gold nanoparticle morphologies (spherical and branched) and six separate proteins (bovine serum albumin, human serum albumin, immunoglobulin G, fibrinogen, lysozyme, and hemoglobin) generated distinguishable protein- and concentration-dependent absorption spectra, even at nanomolar concentrations. Furthermore, we show that this response is sensitive to the relative abundance of different proteins in solution, permitting analysis of protein mixtures. Finally, we demonstrate the ability to distinguish human serum samples with and without a clinically relevant two-fold increase in immunoglobulin G, without the use of expensive reagents or complicated sample processing.