Better approaches are critically needed for in situ point-of-care diagnostic biosensors that enable primary care physicians, or even individual patients, to directly analyze biological fluids without complicated sample pretreatments. Additional purification steps consume time, consume reagents, often require other equipment, and can introduce false-negative results. Biosensors have been modified with blocking molecules to reduce biofouling; however, the effectiveness relies on their chemical composition and morphology. Here, we used a polyethylene glycol film to suppress unspecific binding from human serum on an electrochemical malaria aptasensor. A detailed study of the variation of the chemical and morphological composition of the aptamer/polyethylene glycol mixed monolayer as a function of incubation time was conducted. Higher resistance to matrix biofouling was found for polyethylene glycol than for hydrophobic alkanethiol films. The best sensor performance was observed for intermediate polyethylene glycol immobilization times. With prolonged incubation, phase separation of aptamer, and polyethylene glycol molecules locally increased the aptamer density and thereby diminished the analyte binding capability. Remarkably, polyethylene glycols do not affect the aptasensor sensitivity but enhance the complex matrix tolerance, the dynamic range, and the limit of detection. Careful tuning of the blocking molecule immobilization is crucial to achieving high aptasensor performance and biofouling resistance.
Keywords: AFM characterization; Blocking optimization; Electrochemical aptasensor; Human serum; Malaria detection; Polyethylene glycol blocking.
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