UW Professors Receive Grant To Develop Fast & Accurate Coronavirus Test

Two University of Wyoming researchers and one of their colleagues recently received a grant to develop a test for the coronavirus.

Ellen Fike

September 14, 20202 min read

Test tube

Two University of Wyoming researchers and one of their colleagues recently received a grant to develop a coronavirus test system that is fast, accurate and portable.

The testing system developed by the trio will also test for antibodies to the virus in human samples, the university announced Monday.

UW Department of Chemical Engineering professors Patrick Johnson and Karen Wawrousek, along with Professor Gerard Wall in the microbiology department at the National University of Ireland-Galway, received a little more than $236,000 for a one-year grant from the Health Research Board of Ireland.

Johnson and Wall have been collaborating for the past several years, including when Wall received a Fulbright scholarship to work with the Johnson Lab at UW in the fall of 2015.

Johnson and Wawrousek will create a away to analyze or “assay” samples for signs of coronavirus that will be rapid and portable, using a handheld, battery-operated device. Samples will be analyzed in as little as 15 minutes, Johnson said, and the system will be highly sensitive and specific to the presence of coronavirus.

Wall will produce antibody fragments for use in the detection of the virus that are more robust than the antibodies currently used in detection test kits.

“Our test will have higher sensitivity than other rapid tests and will not require any sample preparation,” Johnson said in a news release. “The idea is to have an accurate, portable, on-site test with results within 15-20 minutes. This will allow rapid answers while the patient is still present, enabling immediate intervention and treatment.”

This type of assay will allow for testing in rural and remote areas, and on-site at airports, among other locations, Johnson added.

Samples would be collected via saliva, a nasal swab or blood. The samples then would be placed in glass vials and inserted into the hand-held instruments, called Raman spectrometers, for analysis.

For the analysis, the project team plans to use Raman spectrometers developed by entrepreneur Keith Carron, a UW professor emeritus of chemistry and CEO of Metrohm Raman in Laramie.

The project team will work with Noah Hull, Microbiology Laboratories manager at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory in Cheyenne, to test against known positive and negative samples to validate the assay.

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Ellen Fike