A researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington is developing a $5 portable device that can deliver COVID-19 testing results on-site in about 10 minutes.
Seong Jin Koh, professor of material science and engineering, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID grant to develop the device, which will be about the size of a person’s thumb.
Health officials will use the current swab collection method, then insert extracted RNA into the device, which relies on nanotechnology on a 1-centimeter-square silicon chip populated with more than a billion nanowells.
In the nanowell, the RNA strand is sandwiched between two nanoparticles, called capture and detection nanoparticles. The capture nanoparticle connects to a negative electrode and the detection nanoparticle to a positive electrode. Applying a voltage between the two electrodes instantly produces an electrical current. A lack of current means the COVID-19 strand is not present in the test sample.
“Our new technology will allow health officials to quickly and easily determine if a person is a COVID-19 carrier,” Koh said. “Because it is portable, the device could be used in airports and other high-volume locations.”
The device costs less than $5 per unit to fabricate and uses currently available silicon technology.
“The chip could be mass-produced by the millions each day and help ease the demand for testing kits,” he said.
Koh’s device can easily be adjusted to detect other illnesses, simply by changing out the DNA strands on the capture and detection nanoparticles. This could be valuable in future outbreaks or common diseases such as the flu, with the advantage that production of new devices could begin on a large scale immediately.
“Dr. Koh’s findings in previous nanotechnology research related to electrical detection of ultra-low concentrations of DNA molecules have given him the ability to quickly develop a device that can immediately be put to use on a large scale on the front lines of this pandemic,” said Stathis Meletis, chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department. “It is a good example of how we can draw upon knowledge at the nanoscale developed through previous research to combat real problems.”
NSF RAPID grants are awarded for proposals related to topics of severe urgency with regard to the availability of—or access to—data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural disasters and similar unanticipated events.
— Written by Jeremy Agor, College of Engineering