Low-Cost, Wireless Multiplexed Test Sensor Could Lead to Easy 10-Minute Home Diagnosis for COVID-19

Low-cost graphene sensors linked to your smartphone could detect and monitor COVID-19 infections at home, no training needed.

Researchers at Caltech have announced a low-cost multiplexed test sensor that, they claim, could allow for high-speed diagnosis of COVID-19 infections in under 10 minutes — without the slightest bit of medical training.

The sensor project builds on work by Assistant Professor Wei Gao on medical sensors which operate on small samples of blood, saliva, or sweat, and are constructed from graphene created with tiny pores — creating a very large surface area, increasing the sensor's sensitivity to the point where it can detect compounds present in only tiny traces.

To build a sensor capable of detecting COVID-19, these graphene sensors have been combined with antibodies tuned to the proteins found on the surface of a COVID virus. The result: SARS-CoV-2 RapidPlex, a sensor which the team found responds to the virus itself, the antibodies created to fight the virus, and the chemical markers of inflammation, all from a single sample.

"This is the only telemedicine platform I've seen that can give information about the infection in three types of data with a single sensor," explains Gao. "In as little as a few minutes, we can simultaneously check these levels, so we get a full picture about the infection, including early infection, immunity, and severity."

"Our ultimate aim really is home use," Gao adds. "In the following year, we plan to mail them to high-risk individuals for at-home testing. And in the future, this platform could be modified for other types of infectious disease testing at home."

The sensors have proven their worth in the lab, using a prototype platform with the sensor connected to a microcontroller which transmits the data to the user's smartphone for analysis and reporting. With the pilot study completed, Gao's team is now working on longevity testing and field tests on hospitalised COVID-19 patients — but even with successful results it could be some time before the sensor is approved for home use.

The team's work has been published in the journal Matter under open-access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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