With the COVID-19 pandemic grappling the world, ‘testing’ is the new mantra to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus. Now, it seems that people could soon use a reusable sensor to detect the COVID-19 in mere 60 second. In order to develop a portable, reusable coronavirus sensor that people can always carry with them, University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Massood Tabib-Azar has received a $200,000 National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant.
The sensor, about the size of a quarter, works with a cellphone and can detect COVID-19 in just 60 seconds. As Tabib-Azar has already developed the technology—and a prototype—to detect the Zika virus, an official blog post on the University of Utah website stated that “he said he could have a prototype of the new COVID-19 sensor for clinical trials in two to three months.”
According to Massood Tabib-Azar: “It can be made to be a standalone device, but it can also be connected to a cellphone. Once you have it connected either wirelessly or directly, you can use the cellphone software and processor to give a warning if you have the virus.”
In April this year, Tabib-Azar along with Subhashish Dolai got two papers published in IEEE Sensors Journal. Mind you! The technology, which is based on a sensor Tabib-Azar first began developing for the NSF about a year ago to detect the Zika virus, involves just a drop of saliva and can produce results in a minute. Tabib-Azar is now converting the same technology to work with COVID-19.
In an official blog post on the University of Utah website, it was revealed, “The sensor would use single-strand DNA called aptamers in the sensor that would attach to the proteins in the COVID-19 virus molecule if it is present. A person would plug the small sensor into the cellphone’s power jack and launch an app made for the device. To test for the presence of the virus, the user would place a drop of saliva on the sensor, and the results would appear on the phone.”
Moreover, this sensor could also test for the virus on the surface of something, like a table or desk, by brushing a swab on the surface and then on the sensor, the blog post added. Besides this, it was also notified that this amazing technology by Tabib-Azar could help detect the presence of COVID-19 in floating microscopic particles in the air in enclosed spaces such as an elevator.
Mind you! Up until now the virus is not considered not airborne, but numerous researches are being done to discover if minute particles of the virus can hang in floating droplets in the air. Therefore, “if the virus is present, the DNA strands in the sensor would bind to the virus’ proteins and electrical resistance is measured in the device, signaling a positive result,” the blog post added
Now if you wondering about the structure of this sensor that could help you detect the COVID-19 pandemic, Tabib-Azar has stated that the sensor would include an array of tiny devices inside it. Each of these tiny devices will come fitted with a DNA strand that looks for a different protein. A specific combination of proteins would be unique to just COVID-19, he added.
Tabib-Azar further added that “By increasing the number of devices and single-strand DNA, we can increase the sensor’s accuracy and reduce the false positives and false negatives.”
What’s more interesting is that the sensor is designed to be reusable as it can destroy the previous sample on it by producing a small electrical current that could heat up and remove or disintegrate the virus. All that this the entire process would require is a little battery power from the smartphones, said Tabib-Azar.
The researcher at the University of Utah also talked about “another possible method would involve putting the saliva sample on disposable sheets that are placed on top of the sensor like a sticky note. This would decrease cross-contamination on the sensor and eliminate the need to heat up and destroy the sample afterward.”
In addition to these impressive testing techniques, it was stated that researchers across the world can get a clearer and more accurate picture of where hotspots are with big outbreaks of the virus the device also can be designed to upload the results to a central server that maps out positive results in an area.
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