An all-in-one portable diagnostic kit can increase the speed and volume of disease testing

Using pinhead-sized arrays of magnets inside an all-in-one lab suite, UCLA researchers have developed a technology that can significantly increase the speed and volume of disease testing while reducing the cost and use of scarce supplies.

Automated tests can be easily developed, deployed, and performed in a timely manner at the onset of a major infectious disease in a physician’s office, clinic, or mass testing sites at airports and schools. The UCLA-led research team was motivated by the lack of equitable access to tests in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when only a few clinical laboratories were allowed to conduct testing. This technological breakthrough could help authorities better prepare for future pandemics by centralizing testing and optimizing the use of resources.

Dino Di Carlo, a professor of bioengineering at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering, and Sam Emaminejad, an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, co-authored the study, published this week in the journal. Nature. The article describes how the lab kit works and includes results from a clinical study with test samples from people showing symptoms of COVID-19. More than 100 test results performed using the laboratory kit were compared to the same samples tested for COVID-19 using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based molecular diagnostics performed as part of routine clinical care from UCLA Health.

“Our wearable lab technology can help overcome some of the barriers to shortages and access to testing, especially at the start of a pandemic, when disease control is most important,” said Emaminejad, who is a fellow in bioengineering. faculty. “And in addition to its potential to address issues of shortage and high demand, it can be widely adapted to test many types of diseases in the field and at laboratory quality. »

The researchers’ ultra-sensitive lab kit detects the presence of genetic material from a virus—in this case, COVID-19—using a circuit board that drives one-millimeter moving magnetic disks called “ferrobots” to move samples through the nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) diagnostic process. SARS-CoV-2, which causes a All steps for separation, sorting, mixing and amplification of test samples are automated and performed at a miniaturized level within the kit.

This platform’s compact design and automated sample handling make it easy to perform bulk testing, where you can test dozens of patient samples simultaneously, all with the same hardware needed to test them today. For example, you can test students in an entire dormitory with just a few dozen test sets. »

Dino Di Carlo, Armond and Elena Hairapetian Professor of Engineering and Medicine at UCLA.

By designing a kit for mass testing, the system requires fewer chemical reagents than would be required to test samples individually. In the team’s study, up to 16 samples were combined and tested simultaneously. If the pooled test gave a positive result, further tests were automatically performed on the same platform until positive samples were identified. The entire process took between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on whether the samples were positive or not. Due to the miniaturization of the test and the group testing capabilities of the technology, the cost of chemical reagents can be reduced by 10-300 times.

The platform offers powerful accuracy and automation, along with the ability to screen for multiple diseases simultaneously. For example, in a batch test of 16 samples, more than 300 laboratory operations, including mixing and sorting, or more than 3,000 individual movements were automated by ferrobots. In reliability studies, researchers have shown that ferrobots can perform more than 8 million movements without error.

Along with Di Carlo and Emaminejad, both faculty members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, the study’s lead authors are Haisong Lin, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher, and Wenzhuo Yu and Kiarash Sabet, both fellows at Emaminejad, graduate students. An interconnected and integrated bioelectronics laboratory at UCLA.

Other authors are UCLA engineering graduate students Michael Bogumil, Jacob Hambalek, and Shuyu Lin; and postdoctoral researcher Yichao Zhao; as well as Assistant Clinical Professor Sukantha Chandrasekaran and Associate Clinical Professor Omai Garner of UCLA Health in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

The research was supported by the WM Keck Foundation COVID-19 Research Fellowship Program, the National Science Foundation, and the NSF Engineering Research Center for Precision Advanced Technologies and Health Systems for Undocumented Populations (PATHS-UP). The UCLA Nanoelectronics Research Facility provided access to the manufacturing equipment used for the research. Lin, Yu, Sabet, Di Carlo and Emaminejad have filed a patent application through the UCLA Technology Development Group for the technology used in the new system.


University of California-Los Angeles

Journal reference:

Lin, H. and b. (2022) Ferrobotic swarms enable accessible and adaptable automated virus testing. Nature.

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