A novel method to test for coronavirus; researchers applying holographic characterisation to develop a new technique for testing for COVID-19
As the effects of Coronavirus spread around the world, many research teams have shifted their attention to developing new tools for understanding and controlling its transmission. With this task in mind, a group at NYU lead by Professor David Grier is working to establish a new method to detect viruses in bodily fluids using holographic particle characterisation (HPC).
Traditionally, determining the presence of specific viruses in a sample requires a lengthy series of chemical reactions to attach fluorescent label molecules to the target viruses, which can then be directly observed. The proposed method to use HPC cuts down on the workload significantly. This process works by using artificial micro-scale plastic spheres, or beads, which are coated with virus-specific antibodies. When the sample is introduced to these beads, the proteins in the virus bind to the antibodies on the bead, slightly increasing its diameter. A specialised holographic microscope is used to detect this change; it does this by shining a laser across the beads and observing how the interference pattern of light is subtly altered by the presence of viruses attached to the surface. This technique was described in a paper published by a pair of undergraduates working with Professor Grier, which can be read about here.
At present, the research group has just received funding from the National Science Fund after a rapid approval. With these funds, the team will first demonstrate their ability to reliably measure virus concentrations for a sample, non-pathogenic virus. This capacity will provide the foundation for the next phase, where they demonstrate the same process with COVID-19 samples. Finally, the team plans to develop a scalable process for use in the public health sector to help address and monitor the current outbreak.