A COVID-19 sensor developed at Johns Hopkins University might revolutionize viral testing by adding accuracy and speed to a process that was annoyant many during the pandemic.
The researchers describe the new sensor, which requires no sample preparation and minimal operator expertise, and offers a significant advantage over existing testing methods, mainly for population-wide testing.
According to Ishan Barman, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who along with David Gracias, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is developing a label-free technique. This means no additional chemical modifications such as antibody functionalization may be required.
Barman claims that the new technology, which isn''t yet available on the market, addresses the limitations of the two most widely used COVID-19 tests: PCR and rapid testing.
PCR tests are highly precise, but require careful sample preparation, with results taking hours or even days to process in a laboratory. On the other hand, rapid tests, which look for the existence of antigens, are less effective at detection early infections and asymptomatic cases, and may result in incorrect results.
The sensor is nearly as sensitive as a PCR test and as straightforward as a rapid antigen test. During initial testing, the sensor demonstrated 92 percent accuracy at discovering SARS-COV-2 in saliva samples comparable to those used during PCR tests. The sensor also found a lot of success in quickly identifying the presence of other viruses, including H1N1 and Zika.
The sensor, which is based on large area nanoimprint lithography, surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS), and machine learning. It can be used for mass testing in disposable chip formats or on rigid or flexible surfaces.
The Gracias lab has developed a large-area, flexible field enhancing metal insulator antenna (FEMIA) array that is scanned on the material and then displayed with laser light to investigate how molecules of the examined specimen vibrate. Another major improvement of the system is the ability to detect very small signatures in spectroscopic data that enable researchers to identify the present and concentration of the virus.
Enhanced sensitivity and selectivity, with a very quick turnaround, are included in the research, along with machine learning.
Sensor material can be placed on any type of surface, from doorknobs and building entrances to masks and textiles.
Gracias believes that utilizing the most advanced nanoimprint technology, we have developed a highly precise, tunable, and scalable nanomanufacturing of both rigid and flexible COVID sensor substrates, which is important for future use non just on chip-based biosensors but also wearables.
He believes that the sensor might be connected with a hand-held testing device for quick screening at unappreciated locations such as airports or stadiums.
According to Barman, this technology goes beyond the current COVID-19 epidemic. We may also use this technology for extensive testing against various viruses, for example, to differentiate between SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1, as well as variants. This issue is a major issue that cannot be easily addressed by current rapid tests.
The company continues to work to improve and test the technology with patient samples. Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures has filed for patents on the intellectual property it has associated, and the company is pursuing licensing and commercialization opportunities.