Recently developed technologies continue to play significant roles in the war against the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last few months, we’ve written about AI applications that predict COVID-19 in hospital admissions, HoloLens2 augmented reality headsets assisting healthcare workers to limit exposure to the virus, remote monitoring wearables, digital stethoscopes, and more devices enlisted for the detection of or protection from the deadly coronavirus.

In the latest application of still-emerging technology, engineers from Carnegie Mellon University and The University of Pittsburgh collaborated to develop 3D-printed lab-on-a-chip tech that they claim can accurately test and report for COVID-19 infection in 10 seconds. Rahul Panat, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and Dhou-Jiang Gao, leader of the Cancer Virology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh, worked together to develop the diagnostic device. The team published the preprint, non-peer-reviewed results of their research on MedRxiv.

Panat and fellow engineers used Aerosol Jet (AJ) nanoparticle 3D printing to assemble gold nanoparticles in a microfluidic device. The device detects SARS-CoV-2 antigens — specifically a protein and a receptor-binding domain — using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. Researchers read the test results on a smartphone app. Panat designed the sensor for a rapid turn-around to enable successive testing, ready to go for the next test within a minute after removing the antibodies with a low-pH solution.

The 3D printed sensor is specific to particular proteins, but the platform is generic. Panat reports that the platform could be used with antigen-specific sensors to detect Ebola, HIV, or the Zika virus.

Because the CMU/Pitt research is not a clinical study, the next steps include further study and testing before the fast-sensing technology can be used with patients.