“In order to do this,” explained Nicholas Ankenbruck, a postdoctoral researcher in the Huang lab, “we immobilize probes specific to the virus or antibodies on the surface of the device, and then monitor changes in electrical measurements in the presence of a sample.”
This combined detection is important, Ankenbruck said, because it can hint at the stage of viral infection or indicate whether the individual is unable to produce antibodies to fight the infection. In other words, people could use the testing device to track the progression of the disease from home.
For example, if a user takes the test when they first have symptoms, it may detect the virus but no antibodies. A week later, that user may detect both the virus and antibodies, suggesting their body is starting to fight off the infection. And if a user is not getting better within a reasonable time frame, they will know it’s time to call the doctor for intervention.
A collaborative approach
Each member of the research team brings specific expertise to the project. Chen, also lead water strategist at Argonne National Laboratory, has extensive experience in nanomaterials and nanodevices. His group will provide the central sensing platform for the device. Huang and his lab group focus on immunology. They will develop a pseudovirus, or synthetic virus, to enable optimization of the device.
Beavis will contribute clinical expertise in current testing practices to evaluate the performance of the device.
BIG, which awarded the research team $80,000 in direct cost funding, funds early-stage research projects at UChicago that have the potential to grow into novel and robust areas of research.
Ankenbruck said creating an accurate test will require the use of purified biological materials for extensive evaluation before moving on to actual patient samples.
“This new funding enables us to purchase all the necessary resources in order to fine-tune and calibrate the device to ensure it is ready for patient use,” he said.
He said the team expects to have a calibrated device within six months and to finish evaluations of the prototype within a year.
“My biggest hope is that we are able to deliver an accurate sensing device for diagnosis and monitoring of COVID-19 that can be transitioned to commercial use and help facilitate a safe transition back to normal life,” he said.
—Adapted from an article originally posted by the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.