Infectious SARS-CoV-2 can persist in air for hours and on surfaces for days, threatening the lives of the general public, and of hospital staff. To address the challenges in the diagnosis of COVID-19, the two principal investigators (PIs) Nian Sun from Northeastern University and Jeremy Luban from UMass Medical School will develop a handheld gas sensor for SARS-CoV-2 virus in air, which will instantly detect SARS-CoV-2 in 1~2 seconds in exhaled breath and on surfaces, based on their demonstrated success on different gas sensors. Compared to other state-of-the-art technologies in the market for COVID-19 diagnosis, the proposed electrochemical sensor has multifold advantages, including ultra-high sensitivity and extreme selectivity, low-cost, and fast response and recovery. This work on novel electrochemical sensors for SARS-CoV-2 virus detection in air represents significant advancement in fundamental research on electrochemical sensors which are typically designed for molecules with much smaller sizes. These sensors will provide instant point of care diagnosis for COVID-19 and could be readily adapted for diagnosis of other diseases through sensing different biomarker chemicals.

These proposed SARS-CoV-2 sensors are novel electrochemical sensors with templated vacancies of SARS-CoV-2 particles, which leads to extremely high selectivity, sub-part per quadrillion (sub-ppq) sensitivity which is 6~9 orders of magnitude better than competitive gas sensors, fast sensor response and recovery time of 1~2 seconds, and long durability of over one year in different temperature and humidity environments. The two PIs have complementary expertise and resources needed for this project on sensors and electronics engineering (Sun), and on virus, proteins, biochemistry and molecular pharmacology (Luban). The PIs plan to carry out research tasks to include fabrication of SARS-CoV-2 gas sensors, sensitivity test, specificity test, and test specificity and sensitivity of SARS-CoV-2 sensors for spike protein variants that appear over the course of the pandemic. The iterative sensor fabrication and tests will be conducted to improve the sensor sensitivity and specificity of the gas sensors with SARS-CoV-2 and with control viruses, and to enable the SARS-CoV-2 sensor tests in ICUs and on humans for COVID-19 diagnosis.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Northeastern University
United States
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