A research team led by Pirouz Kavehpour, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, is developing an inexpensive and fast Breathalyzer-like diagnostic tool to test for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a critical weakness in health care security infrastructure, which is a substantial deficiency in our capabilities to conduct rapid, simple, point-of-care diagnostic and environmental sample collection and testing,” said Kavehpour, who is the principal investigator on the research. Kavehpour’s team has received a one-year, $150,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation.
“The goal in this research is to develop cheap, massively deployable, rapid diagnostic and sentinel systems for detecting respiratory illness and airborne viral threats,” said Kavehpour, .
The design could also be altered to detect other infectious diseases and airborne viral threats by continuously monitoring the air of indoor environments, such as hospitals, schools and airports, for the presence of the dangerous levels of virus.
The concept is based on an environmental water condensation technology developed by Kavehpour and his research group. They have applied for a patent for the design.
Although similar in use to Breathalyzer tests designed to check blood alcohol levels, which use infrared light to measure blood alcohol levels, the method behind the COVID-19 diagnostic test is different. For the coronavirus test, a person would exhale into the device for about a minute. Water vapor from their breath would condense on a special plate. Live virus and virus RNA could then be screened by using fluorescent genetic tags that light up if the virus is present. It could take about 10 minutes to show results.
If the design is successful and meets all federal criteria, test kits could be in production as early as fall 2020, said Kavehpour, who is also a professor of bioengineering.
Other UCLA investigators on the project include Ali Alshehri, a doctoral student in mechanical and aerospace engineering; Rob Candler, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Nasim Annabi, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Dr. Paul Krogstad, professor of pediatrics, pediatric infectious diseases, and molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Other members of the team are Jeff Ruberti and Sara Rouhanifard, of Northeastern University; and Jonathan Rothstein, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.