As the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, there is movement toward restarting life under a “new normal”. The virus may be with us for a long time, but widespread, rapid, and accurate testing may be a way forward. Knowing which individuals have to quarantine themselves and which are free of the virus would go a long way toward a rapid recovery of economic and social activities. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have now developed a cheap, sensitive, and accurate device for the detection of a wide array of pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
Reported in the journal Lab on a Chip, the device can produce results within about 30 minutes, and it costs only about $50 to manufacture. The developers of the new technology believe that it may be fast and sufficiently accurate enough to screen airline passengers before flights and in many other similar venues where a lot of people are gathered in small spaces.
“This test can be performed rapidly on passengers before getting on a flight, on people going to a theme park or before events like a conference or concert,” said Brian Cunningham, the lead author of the study. “Cloud computing via a smartphone application could allow a negative test result to be registered with event organizers or as part of a boarding pass for a flight. Or, a person in quarantine could give themselves daily tests, register the results with a doctor, and then know when it’s safe to come out and rejoin society.”
The device was originally designed to spot bacteria and viruses in horses, particularly ones that are known not to affect humans. However, the same technology should work for a host of viruses and bacteria that are pathogenic to humans.
The device holds a small cartridge with reagents and an input port to present the sample. It attaches to a smartphone, which it uses to detect fluorescent dyes that bind to the RNA of target pathogens. Some preparation is required before the device does its magic, but the researchers are working on integrating those reagent steps as well.
Study in Lab on a Chip: Smartphone-Based Multiplex 30-minute Nucleic Acid Test of Live Virus from Nasal Swab Extract