Researchers in California have adapted a wireless graphene-based sensor for rapid Covid-19 testing.
The team at Caltech adapted a graphene sensor used to measure cortisol to perform three types of test for Covid-19 in as little as ten minutes.
The sensor was developed by Wei Gao, assistant professor in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng department of medical engineering. Sheets of graphene are etched with a laser to generate a 3D graphene structure with tiny pores. Those pores create a large amount of surface area on the sensor, which makes it sensitive enough to detect, with high accuracy, compounds that are only present in very small amounts.
Previous versions of the sensor were impregnated with antibodies for the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress, and uric acid, which at high concentrations causes gout.
The new version of the sensor, which Gao has named SARS-CoV-2 RapidPlex, contains antibodies and proteins that allow it to detect the presence of the virus itself; antibodies created by the body to fight the virus; and chemical markers of inflammation, which indicate the severity of the COVID-19 infection.
The sensor links via Bluetooth to a smartphone to deliver the results.
“This is the only telemedicine platform I’ve seen that can give information about the infection in three types of data with a single sensor,” said Gao. “In as little as a few minutes, we can simultaneously check these levels, so we get a full picture about the infection, including early infection, immunity, and severity.”
So far, the device has been tested only in the lab with a small number of blood and saliva samples obtained for medical research purposes from individuals who have tested positive or negative for COVID-19. Though preliminary results indicate that the sensor is highly accurate, a larger-scale test with real-world patients rather than laboratory samples must be performed, Gao cautions, to definitively determine its accuracy.
The next stage is to test how long the sensors last with regular use, and to begin testing them with hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Following in-hospital testing, he would like to study the suitability of the tests for in-home use. Following testing, the device will need to receive regulatory approval before it is available for widespread use at home.
“Our ultimate aim really is home use,” he says. “In the following year, we plan to mail them to high-risk individuals for at-home testing. And in the future, this platform could be modified for other types of infectious disease testing at home.”
The paper describing the research, titled, “SARS-CoV-2 RapidPlex: A Graphene-based Multiplexed Telemedicine Platform for Rapid and Low-Cost COVID-19 Diagnosis and Monitoring,” has been published online and will appear in the December issue of the journal Matter.
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