Development of a rapid point-of-care diagnostic test for COVID-19
A novel zoonotic coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has recently been identified in patients with an acute and potentially fatal respiratory disease (COVID-19). This virus is genetically similar to SARS and MERS coronaviruses. The outbreak started in the city of Wuhan (China) and then soon turned into a pandemic with over 60,000 clinical cases and at least 1,500 fatalities. Cases in healthcare workers and other close contacts indicate human-to-human transmission. Rapid, simple and specific point-of-care diagnostic tests are urgently needed for the quick isolation of those infected. To address the issue, we have assembled a team of specialists in chemistry, infectious diseases, and clinical diagnostics. We propose to develop rapid point-of-care tests based on aptamer-assisted graphene oxide (AptaGO) and paper enzyme-linked aptamer assays (p-ELAA) for SARS-CoV-2 and its surrogate (HCoV-229E), which is a Containment Level 2 (CL-2) pathogen. The aptamer-based sensors can rapidly (<3 minutes) and specifically bind to the virus proteins with a measurable color/fluorescence change. In addition, AptaGO-based a low-cost (<$1 per test) platform while being ultrasensitive (protein equivalent of <100 virions), thus making them ideal for the proposed use. The tests will be developed in liquid- and paper-based formats: In the liquid format, a few drops of AptaGO will be added to the liquid sample, and the signal read by a fluorescence reader, revealing the presence of SARS-CoV-2 proteins/particles and their concentration. In the paper format, the sample will flow along a paper strip via capillary action (similar to a pregnancy test) and target virus proteins/particles will bind to the aptamers producing a visible line. It is a high-impact and high-reward project considering the devastation the virus has already produced globally with no clear signs of a slow-down. If successful, the developed virus-specific aptamers may be used in place of neutralizing antibodies to treat COVID-19.