This Inexpensive Test Can Detect Coronavirus Antibodies in Just Seconds

An affordable new test developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University can detect coronavirus antibodies in just seconds.

The test results are available in 10 - 15 seconds and detect the presence of two of the antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. (📷: CMU College of Engineering)

Despite the claims made by the memes your aunt shares on Facebook, the coronavirus pandemic is very real and certainly deadly. Even after several months of governments attempting to stop the pandemic’s spread, new cases are consistently springing up around the world. While it is, of course, important that we develop a vaccine as soon as possible, a major part of the problem is still inadequate testing. Most of us in the western world do have access to tests, but getting the results back takes some time and that just lets the virus continue to spread. However, a new test developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University can detect coronavirus antibodies in just seconds.

An antibody is a specific kind of protein that your body develops in order to help fight bacteria and viruses. Antibodies are specific to the virus they are intended to fight and are able to latch onto that particular type of virus. Sometimes that binding can directly neutralize the virus and sometimes it simply “tags” the virus so your immune system can target it. In the case of the SARS-COV-2 virus—like many other viruses—we don’t necessarily have to detect the virus itself to diagnose a patient. If we can detect the antibodies that our body creates to fight the virus, we can deduce that the virus is present. Or, at the very least, that it was recently present. This test is designed to detect SARS-COV-2 virus antibodies as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The device used to administer this test costs somewhere in the neighborhood of tens of dollars, and can be quickly cleaned between tests and reused. It’s capable of detecting the antibodies in extremely small concentrations and the results are available in as little as 10 seconds. The key to that speed is the use of unique 3D-printed electrodes. Those are produced using aerosol jet 3D printing, which makes it possible to give the electrodes a rough texture with lots of surface area. Antigens coat the electrodes, and antibodies in a small drop of blood bind to those antigens where they can be detected as changes to the electrical signal running through the device. The results can then be displayed on a connected smartphone. This test already has a provisional patent and can be manufactured using existing technology. The faster this new test can be put into motion, the faster we can stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

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