Belgian biotech company ZenTech has started producing coronavirus antibody tests. (Photo: AFP)
CHICAGO, April 21 (Xinhua) -- University of Michigan (UM) has invented a microfluidic device, or "lab on a chip," to enable portable, fast, cheap and highly precise COVID-19 antibody testing.
The device, which was developed by UM startup Optofluidic Bioassay, shrinks multiple lab functions onto a single chip just millimeters or centimeters in size, according to a news release posted on UM's website on Tuesday.
The new system is believed to be the first microfluidic approach to a gold standard testing protocol known as "enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay," or ELISA.
Different from standard ELISA tests that take several hours, with machines that provide them the size of refrigerators and the sample having to be sent to test lab for analysis, microfluidic ELISA can give a quantitative and accurate result in just 15 minutes.
The researchers have demonstrated that the new system can detect synthetic COVID-19 antibodies. They're now working with researchers at a hospital in New Jersey on experiments with human blood from COVID-19 patients.
The machine of microfluidic ELISA can be the size of a microwave, and can test multiple simultaneous samples of little more than a drop of blood from a fingertip in less than 20 minutes.
"Our approach offers the best of both worlds. We can achieve the quickness and simplicity of the rapid diagnostic test with the accuracy of the standard ELISA quantitative measure," said Xudong Fan, UM biomedical engineering professor and co-founder of Optofluidic Bioassay.
"Because our device generates such sensitive and quantitative measurements, we believe its use goes beyond identifying recovered patients. Antibodies begin to show up a few days after infection, so we could use this approach to monitor patients' immune response to infection, treatment and vaccination," Fan said.
"The estimated cost of testing is a few dollars per test of two to three different antibodies, making this a very viable option for use in hospitals, doctors' offices, field clinics and potentially even pharmacies," said Xiaotian Tan, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering.