Detecting COVID-19 infection in under 30 minutes

Friday, July 3, 2020

Stock image of a virus under the microscopeAn interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Waterloo have won $265,000 in funding to develop a palm-sized device capable of detecting COVID-19 infection within 30 minutes. The funding from the Government of Canada, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, along with provincial partners is in response to their continued efforts to address the health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada and around the globe.

The team includes Professors Emmanuel Ho from the School of Pharmacy and Keith Fowke from the University of Manitoba and will be led by Carolyn Ren, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

Leveraging the expertise of team members in engineering, nanotechnology, viral immunology and clinical medicine, the project builds on Ren’s work on microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technology to develop a portable, point-of-care instrument to rapidly diagnose COVID-19. 

The device is expected to greatly expand testing and control the spread of the virus through use at drive-through sites and other community locations.

“This tragedy could be prevented from happening or its impact could be largely minimized if rapid, massive-scale testing can be performed at the community level without the need of highly trained professionals and expensive equipment”.

The instrument would consist of battery-powered microwave circuitry and a microwave-microfluidic device with a sensor surface modified by gold nanoparticles to recognize the COVID-19 virus.

To support the development of the device, Ho's research team is exploring how to use gold nanoparticles to detect or bind to the virus so that the device's microwave sensor can produce the 'positive' or 'negative' signal.

A nasal swab from a patient would be stirred in a solution, a drop of which would then go into the device for detection of the virus. A yes or no result for infection would be indicated by a light. 

“Accelerating high-quality research and real-time evidence is a priority for Canada in its fight against COVID-19,” said The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health. "Our government believes that it’s through collaboration and data sharing that we will respond efficiently to this global health emergency”.

The project is one of 139 that received federal funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.