The inexpensive, portable detector identifies pathogens in minutes

Researchers led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign electrical and computer engineering professor Brian Cunningham and bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir, reported (the journal Lab on a Chip) that they created an inexpensive, sensitive Smartphone-based testing device for viral and bacterial pathogens that takes about 30 minutes to complete. The team reported that the ~$50 Smartphone accessory could reduce testing required by laboratories during a pandemic such as COVID-19. The study goal was to detect a panel of viral and bacterial pathogens in horses, including those that cause severe respiratory illnesses similar to those presented in COVID-19. The new device is comprised of a small cartridge containing testing reagents and a port to insert a nasal extract or blood sample, that clips to a Smartphone. Inside the cartridge, the reagents break open the pathogen's outer shell to gain access to its RNA. A primer molecule then amplifies the genetic material into many millions of copies in about 10 or 15 minutes. The RNA strands are stained by a fluorescent dye and the copies and glow green when illuminated by blue LED light, which detected by the Smartphone's camera. "This test can be performed rapidly on passengers before getting on a flight, on people going to a theme park or before events like a conference or concert," Cunningham said. There are a few preparatory steps currently performed outside of the device, and the team is working on a cartridge that has all of the reagents needed to be a fully integrated system. @

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