Texas' Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The Houston school recently unveiled two developing innovations: a “real-time sensor” to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.
Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.
Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.
Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, Rice's engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.
First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.
Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.
This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.
“What’s great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory,” said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. “You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use.”