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Stain-free, rapid, and quantitative viral plaque assay using deep learning and holography

by   Tairan Liu, et al.

Plaque assay is the gold standard method for quantifying the concentration of replication-competent lytic virions. Expediting and automating viral plaque assays will significantly benefit clinical diagnosis, vaccine development, and the production of recombinant proteins or antiviral agents. Here, we present a rapid and stain-free quantitative viral plaque assay using lensfree holographic imaging and deep learning. This cost-effective, compact, and automated device significantly reduces the incubation time needed for traditional plaque assays while preserving their advantages over other virus quantification methods. This device captures  0.32 Giga-pixel/hour phase information of the objects per test well, covering an area of  30x30 mm^2, in a label-free manner, eliminating staining entirely. We demonstrated the success of this computational method using Vero E6 cells and vesicular stomatitis virus. Using a neural network, this stain-free device automatically detected the first cell lysing events due to the viral replication as early as 5 hours after the incubation, and achieved >90 in <20 hours, providing major time savings compared to the traditional plaque assays that take  48 hours or more. This data-driven plaque assay also offers the capability of quantifying the infected area of the cell monolayer, performing automated counting and quantification of PFUs and virus-infected areas over a 10-fold larger dynamic range of virus concentration than standard viral plaque assays. This compact, low-cost, automated PFU quantification device can be broadly used in virology research, vaccine development, and clinical applications


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