With the touch of your phone, you can check the time, the weather and the traffic. Why not check for the novel coronavirus while you’re at it?
Aashish Priye, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Cincinnati (UC), is developing a portable diagnostic tool that could make at-home testing for the novel coronavirus a reality, according to a news release.
Originally, Priye hoped it would help those in remote areas during an infectious disease outbreak. Now, with the pandemic, his lab is exploring how to create a smartphone-based DNA analyzer that could check for COVID-19 — allowing people to test themselves anytime and anywhere.
Today’s most widely used process of pathogen detection is polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes place in a lab and has been used for more than 30 years.
PCR is a technique that makes dozens of copies of single-stranded DNA, which can then help detect viruses and identify genetic disorders, according to the National Human Genome Institute.
Priye is focusing on perfecting an alternative process called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP). One day, LAMP could be used on a smartphone by taking a photo of a sample chip and shipping the LAMP device to a remote location via drone, the release states.
LAMP is able to amplify specific target DNA by using up to six different types of single-stranded DNA samples.
Priye and the UC students working in his lab study the behavior of fluids through micro-channels and the technology of manufacturing microminiaturized devices, also called microfluidics, according to the release. These lab-on-chip systems can also be used for environmental sampling and genetic analysis.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Sandia National Laboratories in California, Priye worked to detect the Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses through the development of smartphone-based diagnostic technology, the release states.
Two other UC researchers, Chong Ahn — professor of electrical engineering and computer science — and graduate student Sthitodhi Ghosh, have also worked to develop a smartphone-based diagnostic tool using lab-on-chip technology.
Priye is the leader of one of 13 research teams that were each awarded a $10,000 grant from UC’s Office of Research, the release states.
“Today’s gold standard PCR system is a bulky machine that uses a lot of power—we know this can be improved,” Priye said in a release. “Our work is curiosity driven—we aim to create the next generation of microfluidic devices using rapid micro-fabrication techniques.”