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Lateral flow tests, commonly based on metal plasmonic nanoparticles, are rapid, robust, and low-cost. However, improvements in analytical sensitivity are required to allow detection of low-abundance biomarkers, for example detection of low antigen concentrations for earlier or asymptomatic diagnosis of infectious diseases. Efforts to improve sensitivity often require changes to the assay. Here, we developed optical methods to improve the sensitivity of absorption-based lateral flow tests, requiring no assay modifications to existing tests. We experimentally compared five different lock-in and subtraction-based methods, exploiting the narrow plasmonic peak of gold nanoparticles for background removal by imaging at different light wavelengths. A statistical framework and three fitting models were used to compare limits of detection, giving a 2.0-5.4-fold improvement. We then demonstrated the broad applicability of the method to an ultrasensitive assay, designing 530 nm composite nanoparticles to increase the particle volume, and therefore light absorption per particle, whilst retaining the plasmonic peak to allow background removal and without adding any assay steps. This multifaceted, modular approach gave a combined 58-fold improvement in the fundamental limit of detection using a biotin-avidin model over 50 nm gold nanoparticles with single-wavelength imaging. Applying to a sandwich assay for the detection of HIV capsid protein gave a limit of detection of 170 fM. Additionally, we developed an open-source software tool for performing the detection limit analysis used in this work.

Original publication




Journal article


Biosens Bioelectron

Publication Date





Biosensors, Imaging, Lateral flow, Nanoparticles, Biosensing Techniques, Biotin, Gold, Limit of Detection, Metal Nanoparticles