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New Air Monitor Detects COVID Variants in 5 Minutes, Offers Real-Time Room Safety Assessment

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed an innovative air monitor capable of detecting different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a room within approximately five minutes. This affordable device combines advanced aerosol sampling technology with an ultrasensitive biosensing technique. The monitor, described as the most sensitive detector available, has the potential to be used in hospitals, healthcare facilities, schools, and public spaces to detect SARS-CoV-2 and monitor other respiratory virus aerosols like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The research team published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, emphasizing the current lack of tools to assess room safety. The new device aims to provide real-time information, enabling individuals to know within minutes whether there is a live virus present. John Cirrito, a professor of neurology at Washington University, highlighted the importance of immediate knowledge, particularly in crowded settings where delayed confirmation of potential illness could have serious consequences.

To develop the monitor, the researchers modified a micro-immunoelectrode (MIE) biosensor that was initially designed to detect amyloid beta, a biomarker for Alzheimer’s disease. They replaced the amyloid beta antibody with a nanobody derived from llamas that recognizes the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This nanobody-based electrochemical approach offers faster detection without requiring extensive processing steps or reagents, making it more efficient. The nanobody itself is small, easy to produce and modify, and cost-effective.

The biosensor was integrated into an air sampler that utilizes wet cyclone technology. This sampler creates a surface vortex by mixing high-velocity air with fluid, effectively trapping virus aerosols. The sampler’s automated pump collects the fluid and sends it to the biosensor for seamless virus detection using electrochemistry. This wet cyclone sampler stands out due to its ability to sample a larger volume of air in just five minutes, significantly increasing virus recovery compared to other commercially available samplers.

The team conducted tests in the apartments of two COVID-positive patients, comparing real-time PCR results of air samples from the bedrooms with those from a virus-free control room. The monitor successfully detected RNA from the virus in the bedroom air samples while yielding negative results for the control air samples. In laboratory experiments simulating a room-sized chamber with aerosolized SARS-CoV-2, the wet cyclone sampler and biosensor efficiently detected various levels of airborne virus concentrations after just a few minutes of sampling.

This ground-breaking air monitor addresses the challenge of detecting diluted virus particles in indoor air, a task that even pushes the limits of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection. The research team’s innovation and use of advanced technology offer a promising solution for real-time monitoring of viral presence in various environments, facilitating timely interventions to mitigate transmission risks.

Source: PTI

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