A Houston-based research team is tapping glow-in-the-dark materials to upgrade at-home rapid COVID-19 testing.
Researchers at the University of Houston have been rethinking the lateral flow assay (LFA) test used for at-home COVID-19 diagnostics. The traditional method indicates the sample's results with colored lines.
“We are making those lines glow-in-the-dark so that they are more detectable, so the sensitivity of the test is better,” says Richard Willson, a professor at the University of Houston, in a UH news release. He previously created a smartphone-based diagnostics app.
Willson's inspiration came from a familiar and nostalgic method — the glow-in-the-dark stars in a child's bedroom. In Willson's case, it was his daughter's bedroom, and within a few days his team of students and postdocs was designing a test featuring glowing nanoparticles made of phosphors.
The team evolved into a spin-off company called Clip Health, originally founded as Luminostics by two of the researchers. The operation is again evolving with new glowing applications.
“In this new development, there are two tricks. First, we use enzymes, proteins that catalyze reactions, to drive reactions that emit light, like a firefly. Second, we attached those light-emitting enzymes onto harmless virus particles, along with antibodies that bind to COVID proteins,” says Willson in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Analyst.
The test now also can be read with a smartphone app. The group is also entertaining additional tests for other diseases.
“This technology can be used for detecting all kinds of other things, including flu and HIV, but also Ebola and biodefense agents, and maybe toxins and environmental contaminants and pesticides in food,” says Willson.
In addition to Willson, the original technology was explained in a paper with co-authors:
- Katerina Kourentzi, University of Houston research associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering
- Jacinta Conrad, Frank M. Tiller Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering,
- UH researchers Maede Chabi, Binh Vu, Kristen Brosamer, Maxwell Smith, and Dimple Chavan
Researcher Richard Willson says he was inspired by the glow-in-the-dark scars on his daughter's bedroom ceiling. Photo via UH.edu