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Inexpensive Systems to Detect Respiratory Illness and Viral Threats

BioE Professor Jeffrey Ruberti, in collaboration with the University of California-Los Angeles and University of Massachusetts Amherst, was awarded a $150K NSF RAPID grant for “Low-Cost, Non-invasive, Fast Sample Collection System for COVID-19 Viral Load Level Diagnosis: Point-of-Care and Environmental Testing.”


Abstract Source: NSF

Pandemics can have a devastating impact on societies: collapsing local economies, halting trade, weakening national security, and overwhelming healthcare capacity. To combat infectious pandemics, rapid, effective diagnostic testing combined with contact tracing and quarantine is needed. This will help officials manage infections while minimizing the effect of the disease on the economy, on society, and on our healthcare system. Further, effective sentinel monitoring of local environments can detect the presence of dangerous levels of virus, preventing mass spreading events. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a critical weakness in health care security infrastructure: the deficiency in our ability to conduct rapid, simple, point-of-care diagnostic and environmental sample collection and testing. The goal in this research is to develop inexpensive, massively deployable rapid diagnostic and sentinel systems for detecting respiratory illness and airborne viral threats. Because the virus is transmitted through droplets in the breath, this system is expected to collect enough sample from one minute of breathing to be used in existing testing units.

This technology is based on continuous dropwise condensation (CDC) which is capable of efficiently extracting particulate (viral) loads from humidified air within a minute. The collection system and supporting instrumentation is simple and can be readily integrated with a well-designed patient interface that is non-invasive, compatible with current rt-PCR sampling and which can be mass produced cheaply. Additionally, CDC, due to its surface collection method, can be modified readily into either a point-of-care, rapid diagnostic test, or into an environmental sentinel sampling/testing system.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Departments:Bioengineering