MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play crucial roles in regulating gene expression. Many studies show that miRNAs have been linked to almost all kinds of disease. In addition, miRNAs are well preserved in a variety of specimens, thereby making them ideal biomarkers for biosensing applications when compared to traditional protein biomarkers. Conventional biosensors for miRNA require fluorescent labeling, which is complicated, time-consuming, laborious, costly, and exhibits low sensitivity. The detection of miRNA remains a big challenge due to their intrinsic properties such as small sizes, low abundance, and high sequence similarity. A label-free biosensor can simplify the assay and enable the direct detection of miRNA. The optical approach for a label-free miRNA sensor is very promising and many assays have demonstrated ultra-sensitivity (aM) with a fast response time. Here, we review the most relevant label-free microRNA optical biosensors and the nanomaterials used to enhance the performance of the optical biosensors.
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