Accelerated Digital Biodetection Using Magneto-plasmonic Nanoparticle-Coupled Photonic Resonator Absorption Microscopy

Congnyu Che, Ruiyang Xue, Nantao Li, Prashant Gupta, Xiaojing Wang, Bin Zhao, Srikanth Singamaneni, Shuming Nie, Brian T. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rapid, ultrasensitive, and selective quantification of circulating microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers in body fluids is increasingly deployed in early cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy monitoring. While nanoparticle tags enable detection of nucleic acid or protein biomarkers with digital resolution and subfemtomolar detection limits without enzymatic amplification, the response time of these assays is typically dominated by diffusion-limited transport of the analytes or nanotags to the biosensor surface. Here, we present a magnetic activate capture and digital counting (mAC+DC) approach that utilizes magneto-plasmonic nanoparticles (MPNPs) to accelerate single-molecule sensing, demonstrated by miRNA detection via toehold-mediated strand displacement. Spiky Fe3O4@Au MPNPs with immobilized target-specific probes are “activated” by binding with miRNA targets, followed by magnetically driven transport through the bulk fluid toward nanoparticle capture probes on a photonic crystal (PC). By spectrally matching the localized surface plasmon resonance of the MPNPs to the PC-guided resonance, each captured MPNP locally quenches the PC reflection efficiency, thus enabling captured MPNPs to be individually visualized with high contrast for counting. We demonstrate quantification of the miR-375 cancer biomarker directly from unprocessed human serum with a 1 min response time, a detection limit of 61.9 aM, a broad dynamic range (100 aM to 10 pM), and a single-base mismatch selectivity. The approach is well-suited for minimally invasive biomarker quantification, enabling potential applications in point-of-care testing with short sample-to-answer time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2345–2354
Number of pages10
JournalACS Nano
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 22 2022


  • fast digital detection
  • magneto-plasmonic nanoparticle
  • microRNA
  • photonic crystal
  • strand displacement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • General Materials Science


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