Research News

Engineers develop fast and accurate COVID-19 sensor

May 10, 2022

Technology could lead to more efficient and effective mass testing

Engineers at Johns Hopkins University, supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation, have developed a COVID-19 sensor that addresses the limitations of the two most widely used types of COVID-19 tests: PCR tests that require sample preparation, and the less accurate rapid antigen tests.

The sensor technology, which is not yet available, is almost as sensitive as a PCR test and as convenient as a rapid antigen test. The simple-to-use sensor doesn't require sample preparation and can be used as disposable chips or on a wide variety of surfaces.

"The technique is as simple as putting a drop of saliva on our device and getting a negative or a positive result," said Ishan Barman, one of the senior authors of the study. "The key novelty is that this is a label-free technique, which means that no additional chemical modifications like molecular labeling or antibody functionalization are required. The sensor could eventually be used in wearable devices."

"Label-free optical detection, combined with machine learning, allows us to have a single platform that can test for a wide range of viruses with enhanced sensitivity and selectivity, with a very fast turnaround," added lead author Debadrita Paria.

"Using state-of-the-art nanoimprint fabrication and transfer printing, we have realized highly precise, tunable and scalable nanomanufacturing of both rigid and flexible COVID sensor substrates, important for future implementation, not just on chip-based biosensors but also wearables," said senior author David Gracias.

The platform goes beyond the current coronavirus pandemic, according to Barman. "We can use this for broad testing against different viruses, for instance, to differentiate between SARS-CoV-2 and H1N1, and even variants. This is a major issue that can’t be readily addressed by current rapid tests."

The team continues to develop and test the technology and is pursuing a patent and potential license and commercialization opportunities.