High throughput detection of the spike glycoprotein of the virus causing COVID‑19 by laser diode thermal desorption-triple quadrupole mass spectrometry
In order to better manage the current COVID‑19 pandemic and support research on the disease in Canada and the rest of the world, it is indispensable to have rapid and sensitive methods of detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Presently, two major types of tests are used: antibody-based and RNA-based. However, in spite of the sensitivity and specificity of these tests, they have important disadvantages such as false negatives in the early stages of infection. The aim of the present proposal is to develop and evaluate the feasibility of a new COVID‑19 diagnostic test based on the ultra-fast detection of specific peptides of the spike glycoprotein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This protein mediates the entry of virus to target cells and it is one of the pathogen’s signature components. The specific peptides of the virus (already identified by another research group) are obtained after proteolytic digestion with trypsin of the spike glycoprotein and they are detected using a high throughput technique, laser diode thermal desorption (LDTD) coupled to triple quadrupole mass spectrometry. If successful, this method could analyze more than 15000 samples in less than 35 hours. The partner organization in this project, Phytronix Technologies, developed the LDTD ionization source and will work closely with academic collaborators to build the method by sharing expertise and resources. The project is divided in four stages necessary to determine the applicability of the method for COVID‑19 diagnostic: optimization of instrumental parameters, signal enhancement of the target peptides, extraction and digestion of spike glycoprotein in real conditions and determination of figures of merit of the method (limits of detection, precision, rate of false positives and false negatives, etc.). Phytronix Technologies will facilitate the deployment of the method by developing turnkey solutions for potential customers. These turnkey solutions (simplified protocols, reagent kits) allow the proper transfer of analytical methods to the customers by allowing staff with minimal training to use the developed method. Such effort is a key step for knowledge transfer to users and a critical step towards facilitating the diffusion of the results of the present project.