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Researchers Use Physics Technology to Develop Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Test

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 10 Nov 2020
Researchers have adapted technology that is typically used for physics applications to create a rapid antigen COVID test that has been able to detect viral proteins in minutes with high accuracy.

Currently, PCR-, antigen-, and antibody-based technologies have been at the forefront in the development of COVID testing. However, scientists are looking into other technologies not usually used in the life sciences in order to improve the detection of the virus. Researchers from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA, USA) have developed a test called TriboSense One that does not have an optical readout for detecting viruses like many current tests on the market, but instead provides a mechanical readout to assess the strength of biomolecular interactions, looking at friction to detect a sample's molecular interactions and confirm the presence of the virus in very small concentrations.

Image: Researchers Use Physics Technology to Develop Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Test (Photo courtesy of MIT)
Image: Researchers Use Physics Technology to Develop Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Test (Photo courtesy of MIT)

The instrument measures how molecules in saliva affect the motion of sensing beads with magnetic properties to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 viruses are present or not. The beads and the saliva are mixed together during sample prep. Currently, the test detects the spike protein of the virus, but the magnetic sensing particles can also be customized to stick to different types of proteins, for example the nucleocapsid protein of SARS-CoV-2, which the researchers are also pursuing. Once the saliva sample is collected, the consumer's job is quite simple, consisting mostly of pipetting the sample into the solution. The technology was originally created to measure protein-protein, protein-DNA, DNA-DNA and other biomolecular interactions. Eventually, the team wants to expand testing to other diseases, but the focus now is on COVID-19. The testing system could potentially benefit point-of-care settings because of its small size and portability. The test is also inexpensive; while it costs around USD 5-6 right now, at scale it could even cost as little as USD 3.

"We had to go from scratch," said MIT Professor Alfredo Alexander-Katz. "We had never worked on viruses … and we adapted the technology to be able to do this."

Related Links:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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