COVID-19 Diagnostics: University Of Chicago Developing New Handheld Device That Test For Both Virus and Antibodies In Less Than 5 Minutes And Costs Only US$10!
: Despite the fact that accurate and widespread testing is crucial to managing the coronavirus pandemic, many individuals in the U.S. and even elsewhere globally still can’t get tested for COVID-19 without visiting designated sites.
A rendering of a potential affordable, handheld COVID-19 testing device.
The researchers hope to be evaluating prototypes in less than a year.
Credit: Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering
Fortunately a new research project could lead to a solution: an affordable, at-home test that offers rapid detection.
Researchers from the University of Chicago researchers were awarded a Big Ideas Generator grant of US$80,000 to develop a handheld COVID-19 testing device that provides results in five minutes. They hope to be able to detect both current infections as well as previous ones, all for about just IUS$10 per test.
The Pritzker Molecular Engineering researchers Dr Jun Huang and Dr Junhong Chen, their lab groups, and Dr Kathleen Beavis of the Department of Pathology will come together to create a detection device that uses field-effect transistor technology to enable rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 at home or at the doctor.
Dr Haihui Pu, a staff scientist in Dr Junhong Chen’s research group, said a home testing kit could provide peace of mind to individuals who might be concerned about the risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a testing site, as well as rapid results to those who might face a long wait or may not qualify based on their symptoms.
Dr Pu told Thailand Medical News, “Home testing offers the opportunity to carry out the self-diagnosis even with very mild symptoms or in the asymptomatic condition. In addition, it is affordable at about US$10 per test.”
He added that an affordable price point is critical for under-resourced and under-served populations to access the technology.
In order to meet meet the high demand for testing, the researchers plan to use cost-effective technology that is sensitive, precise, reliable and able to process a lot of information quickly.
The team plans to create a handheld device programmed with step-by-step prompts on the LCD screen, allowing for easy use without any prior training. The device would use various specimens from patients (e.g., nasal and saliva samples) to test for both infection and antibodies.
Dr Pu added, “The existing technologies only allow for diagnosis against COVID-19 by separately detecting the presence of virus and antibodies, which also require professional training for operation and take hours to deliver the results.”
The team’s new device, however, will detect viral particles and antibodies simultaneously.
Dr Nicholas Ankenbruck, a postdoctoral researcher in the Huang lab explained, “In order to do thi
s, we immobilize probes specific to the virus or antibodies on the surface of the device, and then monitor changes in electrical measurements in the presence of a sample.”
Dr Ankenbruck stressed that this combined detection is important, because it can hint at the stage of viral infection or indicate whether the individual is unable to produce antibodies to fight the infection. In other words, people could use the testing device to track the progression of the disease from home.
For instance, if a user takes the test when they first have symptoms, it may detect the virus but no antibodies. A week later, that user may detect both the virus and antibodies, suggesting their body is starting to fight off the infection. And if a user is not getting better within a reasonable time frame, they will know it’s time to call the doctor for intervention.
Every member of the research team brings specific expertise to the project. Dr Chen, also lead water strategist at Argonne National Laboratory, has extensive experience in nanomaterials and nanodevices. His group will provide the central sensing platform for the device. Dr Huang and his lab group focus on immunology. They will develop a pseudovirus, or synthetic virus, to enable optimization of the device.
Dr Beavis will contribute clinical expertise in current testing practices to evaluate the performance of the device.
The supporter BIG, which awarded the research team $80,000 in direct cost funding, funds early-stage research projects at University of Chicago that have the potential to grow into novel and robust areas of research.
Dr Ankenbruck said creating an accurate test will require the use of purified biological materials for extensive evaluation before moving on to actual patient samples.
He added, “This new funding enables us to purchase all the necessary resources in order to fine-tune and calibrate the device to ensure it is ready for patient use.”
Dr Ankenbruck added that the team expects to have a calibrated device within three months and to finish evaluations of the prototype within five months. Hopefully just in time for the coming second wave.
He further added, “My biggest hope is that we are able to deliver an accurate sensing device for diagnosis and monitoring of COVID-19 that can be transitioned to commercial use and help facilitate a safe transition back to normal life.”
Thailand Medical News will provide updates of the new device as the project develops. In the meanwhile for more on COVID-19 diagnostics
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