Magnetic nanoparticles for COVID-19 detection

Magnetic nanoparticles for COVID-19 detection

06 November 2020


Responding to developing countries’ needs during the International Health Emergency



Real-time RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) has been one of the most used and efficient techniques for the clinical diagnosis of COVID-19. However, the need for specialized and homogenous magnetic nanoparticles to extract and purify the viral RNA from the unusual coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is still the major challenge of this technique. Now, in a prompt response from Ecuador, scientists from Yachay Tech University succeeded in parallelizing the process to produce ten times more magnetic nanoparticles in just two days, granting the potential of making ~ 50,000 COVID-19 tests. Their results are published in the scientific journal “Scientific Reports” from Nature.


The real-time RT-PCR method is based on a previous extraction/purification of RNA from nasopharyngeal patient samples. This method has been developed and optimized as kits for the clinical diagnosis of COVID-19, allowing the processing of approximately 10,000 tests per day. Even if this technique is universal and can be implemented in every country, countries like Ecuador and many other Latin American countries struggle with the relatively high prices of the kit in the international market for a developing country and their import time frame. In addition, the success of this technique is based on the correct and efficient viral RNA extraction that mainly depends on the magnetic nanoparticles (MNP) used. Thus, the need for a simplified method to produce large quantities of MNP for RNA extraction is evident to cover the real needs of developing countries for low cost, and express synthesis time helps in the explosive expansion of the novel coronavirus.


In a national collaboration, a scientific team formed by Julio C. Chacón-Torres, C. Reinoso, Daniela G. Navas-León, Sarah Briceño, and Gema González from Yachay Tech University with the support of Frank Alexis and Ernesto Medina as scientific group leaders, and the private support from InnovativeHealth LATAM, ONELABT, and Horiba Scientific; a crucial breakthrough was accomplished: using the expertise from each scientist one litter of MNP was produced in just two days during March in a basic laboratory at Yachay Tech University. This result allowed the potential execution of around 50,000 real-time RT-PCR tests for COVID-19 detection in Ecuador. The reported fabrication process was fully characterized and tested to be set as a benchmark in the correct synthesis of homogeneously MNP specialized for a high-quality RNA extraction along with their potential implementation into a real-time RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 detection.





Additional benefits

“This is an improved ‘simplified three-step method’ to produce large quantities of MNP for RNA extraction based on Zhao et al method,using  a highly effective protocol. It represents a great  contribution from academia  to cover the real needs of society at low cost,  especially important for developing countries, in this moment of explosive expansion of the coronavirus” says Gema González head of the Nanotechnology Department from the School of Physical Sciences and Nanotechnology at Yachay Tech University – Ecuador, one of the lead authors of the study. This method helps in reducing the cost of acquiring MNP for diverse biomolecular applications while reducing developing country budgets constraints and chemical availability during the current COVID‑19 International Health Emergency.


Scientific publication:

Julio C. Chacón-Torres, C. Reinoso, Daniela G. Navas-León, Sarah Briceño, and Gema González “Optimized and scalable synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles for RNA extraction in response to developing countries’ needs in the detection and control of SARS-CoV-2”. Scientific Reports: DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-75798-9


Scientific contact:

Dr. Julio C. Chacón Torres

School of Physical Sciences and Nanotechnology

Yachay Tech University

San Miguel de Urcuquí, Hacienda San José s/n

Proyecto Yachay


T: +593 983543041



Check the article in Nature


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