Cytokine storm is a life-threatening uncontrolled elevation of circulating cytokines, which occurs in various inflammatory conditions such as infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancers. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the devastating role of a cytokine storm and brought this immune dysregulation response to attention. Cytokine storm can lead to multi‑organ failure if inadequately treated, thus the early diagnosis is important to prevent its prognostic and therapeutic implications. 

Currently, nonspecific markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein are mainly measured to detect cytokine elevation. Clinical assays measuring cytokine levels take a long time, preventing in-time management of the disease and yielding unreliable results of cytokines levels due to their rapid changes. Fast-response and continuous methods of cytokine monitoring would enable timely therapeutic interventions. 

Technology Overview

Researchers at Northeastern developed a DNA-based photoacoustic nanosensor for point of care measurement of cytokines and prediction of immune responses. This nanosensor function is based on the complementary base-pairing rules of DNA. The freely moving arm of the DNA nanosensor in body fluids binds to the cytokines. Upon binding of the cytokines, the DNA arm folds in and photoacoustic dyes attached to the nanosensor are held in close proximity of each other. The close state of the sensor causes changes in the photoacoustic signal, which is detected by photoacoustic imaging. This sensor can simultaneously detect three analytes through enhanced photoacoustic imaging sensitivity. Moreover, inline monitoring enables continuous sampling and analysis. Taken together, the sensor provides a rapid, minimally invasive, in vivo diagnostic assay, which overcomes the current limitations of in vitro diagnostic assays.


  • Chemical and mechanical robustness of nanosensor design 
  • Continuous monitoring
  • Simultaneous detection of more than one analyte
  • Enhanced photoacoustic imaging sensitivity 


  • Point-of-care diagnosis of cytokine storm
  • Monitoring infectious disease such as COVID-19
  • Immuno-oncology applications 


  • License
  • Partnering
  • Research collaboration
Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Vaibhav Saini
Senior Manager Commercialization
Northeastern University
Heather Clark
Kevin Bardon
Nicole Langlois