Developing a Rapid Do-It-Yourself Test for the Home-Based Diagnostics and Monitoring of COVID‑19 Enabled by the Integration of Functional Nucleic Acids and Electrochemical Readout

Soleymani, Leyla | $50,000

Ontario McMaster University 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

This proposal is focused on developing a do-it-yourself (DIY) test for the home-based diagnostics and monitoring of COVID-19. The current gold standard techniques for diagnosing COVID‑19 require nucleic acid amplification for detecting viral RNA. This step in viral detection makes it difficult to create a test that is inexpensive and portable enough for home based analysis. The existing home-based tests for COVID‑19 do not directly detect the presence of the virus; instead, they sense the antibodies generated in their response (antibody tests), presenting poor performance especially in the early days of disease onset. In response to the urgent need for a DIY home test that can be used for wide-spread testing and contact tracing, we propose to create a handheld and inexpensive chip/reader system for COVID‑19 analysis. This system will build on our previous work focused on detecting bacterial proteins to directly detect viral proteins specific to SARS-CoV-2. Synthetic DNA machines are used here to directly bind highly abundant viral proteins and generate an easy-to-detect DNA barcode, which can be analyzed using an electronic chip plugged into a handheld reader (a small dongle connected to smart phones). Technologies that enable home-based testing are expected to make a major impact in the fight against COVID‑19 or other infectious disease pandemics in Canada and globally because they will allow for: (1) health care resources to be used more efficiently, (2) patients to be frequently monitored at home during quarantine or recovery, (3) testing to be applied at points of entry and remote areas, and (4) the overall testing capacity to be significantly increased. These tests are essential during the time following the peak of pandemics when economic activity is resumed. At that point, increased decentralized testing integrated with epidemiological surveillance will become essential for rapidly identifying and isolating infected individuals for avoiding future outbreaks.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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