KU researchers developing quick coronavirus test

Local News

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KSNW) – A University of Kansas professor is heading an effort to develop a quick-turnaround coronavirus test.

Steven Soper, a Foundation Distinguished Professor with appointments in both the School of Engineering and Department of Chemistry, is repurposing “lab on a chip” technology that the university said he had previously developed to give doctors simple tools to more easily and quickly diagnose conditions ranging from stroke to colon cancer.

The test uses a small plastic chip — about 38 by 42 millimeters — that contains 1.5 million tiny pillars, just 10 microns wide and 50 microns tall. Each pillar contains a piece of ribonucleic acid that “recognizes” a protein found in the COVID-19 virus particle.

“When we flow saliva through this forest of pillars that have on the chip surfaces, this DNA molecule will look to bind to the virus particle,” Soper said.

The chip will then be exposed to blue light, which will release the RNA-virus bound particles from the pillars and funnel them through a hole just 200 nanometers wide — creating an electrical signal that lets users see if they have the virus. For the user, taking the test will be very simple.

“You take a saliva sample, you put it in the chip, and the chip does the processing,” Soper said.

Current tests — including one used by KU — involve multiple steps, require a trained operator to implement the test and need an hour or two before results are available. The new test takes about 15 minutes.

The team has been working on the project since early June following KU’s shutdown in March. Funding for the effort comes from the National Institutes of Health. The research group includes three graduate students in bioengineering and three graduate students in chemistry.

The test must be clinically tested and must obtain approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for widespread use.

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