Engineering solutions to COVID-19 testing

As the urgent measures to slow down COVID-19 continue to affect lives and shut down operations across the nation and around the world, Purdue Engineering research has ramped up. In nearby labs, our two teams of engineers are hard at work quickly and collegially developing portable, user-friendly technologies that would tell people — in their own homes — whether they’ve contracted the novel coronavirus.

We began our research long before the current pandemic. The Linnes Lab has focused on human health, tackling such challenges as HIV and MERS, while the Verma Lab has concentrated on animal health, targeting such burdens as bovine respiratory disease. Now we are rapidly translating these platforms and assays to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19). Our goal is to get scalable and affordable products through federal review and to market in as little as three months.

Biosensor platforms being developed in Jacqueline Linnes’ lab work somewhat like a pregnancy test. Users would apply a sample (likely from a throat or nose swab) to a microfluidic paper-based analytical device known as a µPAD (pronounced “micro-PAD”). The test would give them a binary result — like the line-or-no-line with a pregnancy test — indicating whether it detected SARS-CoV-2 or not. We have previously demonstrated detection of HIV and of a different coronavirus, MERS-CoV, on this type of platform.

A related technology, in Mohit Verma’s lab, is based on designing new nucleic-acid-based assays that would change color in the presence of SARS-CoV-2. Traditionally, these types of assays have been limited to a centralized laboratory because they require expertise and sophisticated equipment. We are incorporating these assays on µPADs so every person could self-test at home. Working with external manufacturers and partners, we have the potential to mass-fabricate these tests quickly.

The goal of both of these technologies is to provide a result within 40 minutes at most.

Across our labs, we have been sharing test chemistries, design specifications and equipment needed to get these tests up and running as fast as possible.

These past couple of weeks have shown how people, and society as a whole, will pull together in times of need in a variety of ways. We are humbled to contribute to this unprecedented moment in our history, and we are hopeful we can bring forth a solution that can save lives.

Jacqueline Linnes

Marta E. Gross Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering

College of Engineering, Purdue University

Mohit Verma

Assistant Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering and Biomedical Engineering

College of Engineering and College of Agriculture, Purdue University

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Pioneering groundbreaking technology, unlocking revolutionary ideas and advancing humankind across the country, planet and universe. Explore how leading educators, thinkers and innovators at the Purdue University College of Engineering are shaping the future — and beyond.