One-second test for COVID-19 biomarkers

Tuesday, 25 May, 2021

One-second test for COVID-19 biomarkers

Researchers from the University of Florida (UF) and Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University have developed a rapid and sensitive testing method for COVID-19 biomarkers, claimed to provide results in just one second. Having previously demonstrated detection of biomarkers relevant in epidemics and emergencies — such as the Zika virus, heart attacks and cerebral spinal fluid leaks — the researchers leveraged their expertise to devise a sensor system that works far faster than current COVID-19 detection methods.

Detecting the presence of the virus requires amplifying the numbers of the biomarker, such as the copies of viral ribonucleic acid in the common polymerase chain reaction technique for COVID-19 detection, or amplifying the binding signal for a target biomarker. The group’s method amplifies the binding signal for a target biomarker, as described in the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B.

“Our biosensor strip is similar to commercially available glucose test strips in shape, with a small microfluidic channel at the tip to introduce our test fluid,” said UF doctoral candidate Minghan Xian, corresponding author on the study. “Within the microfluidic channel, a few electrodes are exposed to fluid. One is coated with gold, and COVID-relevant antibodies are attached to the gold surface via a chemical method.”

During measurement, sensor strips are connected to a circuit board via a connector, and a short electrical test signal gets sent between the gold electrode bonded with COVID antibody and another auxiliary electrode. This signal is then returned to the circuit board for analysis.

“Our sensor system, a circuit board, uses a transistor to amplify the electrical signal, which then gets converted into a number on the screen,” Xian said. “The magnitude of this number depends on the concentration of antigen, the viral protein, present within our test solution.”

While the system’s sensor strips clearly must be discarded after use, the test circuit board is reusable, which means the cost of testing may be greatly reduced. Furthermore, the versatility of the technology goes far beyond detecting COVID-19.

“By altering the type of antibodies attached to the gold surface, we can repurpose the system to detect other diseases,” Xian said. “The system can serve as a prototype for modularised, inexpensive protein biomarker sensors for expedient real-time feedback within clinical applications, operating rooms or home use.”

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