LOWELL, Mass. — One of the key pieces to stopping the spread of COVID-19 is testing. However, there have been problems testing large numbers of people and getting results back in timely manner.
Inside a lab at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, researchers are creating a device that could solve those issues.
“We have developed a rapid point of care diagnostic test that can detect COVID-19 virus in only five minutes,” explained Gulden Camci-Unal, PH.D., an Assistant Professor of chemical engineering.
Along with Ph.D. student Darlin Lantigua, she is using biosensor technology to develop a device that will be similar to an at-home pregnancy test.
Lantigua says it is simple to use and doesn’t require any kind of medical assistance. It is exposed to a small amount of bodily fluid and will turn a specific color it if detects the virus.
Even as the number of coronavirus cases falls, testing will be important to track and contain whatever incidents do flare up in the future.
“Given the efforts to gradually reopen the public services, there’s going to be an increasing need for testing individuals,” added Camci-Unal.
That’s something Governor Charlie Baker continues to emphasize, like he did last week at one of his briefings.
“The goal once we get the go-ahead from the feds will be to test everybody who is symptomatic, everybody who is asymptomatic and a close contact,” he said.
Although the turnaround time for traditional testing methods is improving, there are still obstacles to achieving the governor’s goal.
“Limitations for expanding testing more aggressively is around supplies to do the test,” said Dr. Michael Gustafson, President of UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Either a swab or the nasopharyngeal for obtaining the specimen, those are in tight supply.”
The device being developed in Lowell requires further testing and will need FDA approval.
If those hurdles are cleared, researchers believe it will be a much cheaper alternative because it doesn’t require any lab work to get results.
More importantly they hope this technology will be a more powerful tool to stop a deadly disease.
“If we are able to rapidly identify the individuals with that disease then they can quickly be isolated and the proper course of treatment can quickly begin,” said Camci-Unal.
There’s no definitive timeline for when this device could be available. The researchers are currently looking for a company to form a partnership. In terms of the FDA, they believe approval could come relatively quickly since this device works outside the body.
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