Accurate and widespread testing is crucial to managing the coronavirus pandemic, but many people in the U.S. still can’t get tested for COVID-19 without visiting designated sites. A new research project could lead to a solution: an affordable, at-home test that offers rapid detection.
University of Chicago researchers were awarded a Big Ideas Generator grant to develop a handheld COVID-19 testing device that provides results in five minutes. They hope to be able to detect both current infections as well as previous ones, all for about $10 per test.
With this funding, Pritzker Molecular Engineering researchers Jun Huang and Junhong Chen, their lab groups, and Kathleen Beavis of the Department of Pathology will come together to create a detection device that uses field-effect transistor technology to enable rapid diagnosis of COVID-19—at home or at the doctor.
Affordable, at-home testing
Haihui Pu, a staff scientist in the Junhong Chen research group, said a home testing kit could provide peace of mind to individuals who might be concerned about the risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a testing site, as well as rapid results to those who might face a long wait or may not qualify based on their symptoms.
“Home testing offers the opportunity to carry out the self-diagnosis even with very mild symptoms or in the asymptomatic condition,” Pu said. “In addition, it is affordable at about $10 per test.” An affordable price point is critical for under-resourced and under-served populations to access the technology, he added.
To meet the high demand for testing, the researchers plan to use cost-effective technology that is sensitive, precise, reliable and able to process a lot of information quickly.
The researchers plan to create a handheld device programmed with step-by-step prompts on the LCD screen, allowing for easy use without any prior training. The device would use various specimens from patients (e.g., nasal and saliva samples) to test for both infection and antibodies.
Detecting both the virus and antibodies
“The existing technologies only allow for diagnosis against COVID-19 by separately detecting the presence of virus and antibodies, which also require professional training for operation and take hours to deliver the results,” said Pu.
The research team’s device, however, will detect viral particles and antibodies simultaneously.