Diabetic retinopathy (DR) has accounted for major loss of vision in chronic diabetes. Although clinical statistics have shown that early screening can procrastinate or improve the deterioration of the disease, the screening rate remains low worldwide because of the great inconvenience of conventional ophthalmoscopic examination. Instead, tear fluid that contains rich proteins caused by direct contact with eyeballs is an ideal substitute to monitor vision health. Herein, an immunofluorescence biosensor enhanced by a photonic crystal (PhC) is presented to handle the trace proteins suspended in the tear fluid. The PhC was constructed by self-assembled nanoparticles with a thin layer of gold coated on top of it. Then, the PC substrate was conjugated with antibodies and placed in a microchannel. When the capillary-driven tear sample flew over the PC substrate, the immunoassay enabled the formation of a sandwich antibody-antigen-antibody configuration for PhC-enhanced immunofluorescence. The use of PhC resulted in a concentration enhancement of more than tenfold compared to non-PhC, while achieving an equivalent signal intensity. The limit of detection for the target biomarker, lipocalin-1 (LCN-1), reached nearly 3 μg/ml, and the turnaround time of each detection was 15 min. Finally, a preclinical evaluation was conducted using ten tear samples. A clear trend was observed, showing that the concentrations of LCN-1 were at least twofold higher in individuals with chronic diabetes or DR than in healthy individuals. This trend was consistent with their medical conditions. The results provided a direct proof-of-concept for the proposed PhC biosensor in rapid tear-based DR screening.
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