Imagine a 10-second COVID-19 antibody test-we're on our way

Carnegie Mellon University researchers reveal fastest known COVID-19 antibody test with high sensitivity due to a unique, 3D printing technology and an electrochemical reaction.

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Imagine a 10-second COVID-19 antibody test-we're on our way

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, have developed one of the fastest known COVID-19 antibody tests. 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. Such a quick and effective test could be a game-changer for controlling the spread of the pandemic. 

Antibodies stick to antigens on the 3D printed electrodes that are coated with reduced graphene oxide.  Source: College of Engineering 

The breakthrough test would require a very small drop of blood from a fingertip (less than five microliters) to identify two antibodies of the virus: spike S1 protein and receptor binding domain (RBD). It can detect antibody concentrations at an extremely low level, one picomolar (0.15 nanograms per milliliter), through an electrochemical reaction within a handheld microfluidic device. Results are sent almost immediately to a simple interface on a smart phone. The device can be cleaned (i.e. regenerated) within one minute using a special chemistry discovered by the researchers that allows multiple, successive readings from the same device. 

The device is about the size of a quarter.  The device is about the size of a quarter. 

A simple yet elegant additive manufacturing technology called aerosol jet 3D printing is responsible for the efficiency and accuracy of this testing device. Tiny, inexpensive gold micropillar electrodes are printed at nanoscale using aerosol droplets that are thermally sintered together. This causes a rough, irregular surface that provides increased surface area of the micropillars and an enhanced electrochemical reaction, where antibodies can latch on to antigens coated on the electrode. The specific geometry allows the micropillars to load more proteins for detection, resulting in very accurate, quick results.

The test has a very low error rate since the binding reaction between the antibody and antigen used in the device is highly selective. This natural design was exploited by the researchers to their advantage.

This sensing platform can also be used to detect other infectious diseases, potentially affecting the course of pandemics.

Rahul Panat, Associate Professor, MechE

The device, which has a provisional patent, is inexpensive to make (in the tens of dollars). And, the manufacturing capabilities already exist.

An interface with a mobile phone provides the results of the antibody test.  Source: College of Engineering 

“My research team was working on 3D printed high-performance sensors to detect dopamine, a chemical in brain, when we realized that we could adapt our work for COVID-19 testing,” said Rahul Panat, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon who uses specialized additive manufacturing techniques for research ranging from brain-computer interfaces to biomonitoring devices. “We shifted our research to apply our expertise to combatting this devastating pandemic.” 

Rahul Panat at the 3D aerosol jet printer.  Source: College of Engineering 

Knowing the work would require a multidisciplinary approach, Panat collaborated with Shou-Jiang Gao, leader of the Cancer Virology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh. Azahar Ali, a postdoctoral researcher in Panat’s Advanced Manufacturing and Materials LabOpens in new window, was the lead author of the study. Their research findings are available on MedRxivOpens in new window in anticipation of peer review. 

“We’re sharing these results at the time of preprint and prior to peer review because of the significant, potential impact on public health,” said Panat.

This sensing platform can also be used for the detection of other infectious diseases.

More about Carnegie Mellon University

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A private, global research university, Carnegie Mellon stands among the world's most renowned educational institutions, and sets its own course. With cutting-edge brain science, path-breaking performances, innovative start-ups, driverless cars, big data, big ambitions, Nobel and Turing prizes, han... learn more

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