COVID-19 sensor could bring daily testing to iPhones

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A project to create a low-cost Zika virus sensor for the iPhone is being reworked to test for COVID-19, one which could allow people to perform daily tests for the virus without requiring invasive nasal swabs.

A prototype of the COVID-19 sensor
A prototype of the COVID-19 sensor


Current testing for COVID-19 typically relies on a medical professional swabbing at the back of a person's nasal cavity, a procedure that is uncomfortable and too invasive for its critics. In a University of Utah project, it is hoped that an alternative method will enable for quick and cheap testing, while also making it more comfortable.

Originally created to detect the Zika virus in 2016, the project led by Professor Massood Tabib-Azar aims to rework the sensor so that it could perform a similar detection of COVID-19, and potentially doing so within 60 seconds, reports Metro.

The project received a boost in early May, receiving a $200,000 National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant to further fund its progress.

"We started this project about 12 months ago," said the professor. "The main idea was to enable people to have their own personal sensor to detect Zika in places that they travel. The plan is to program it to identify COVID-19 instead."

A prototype device has been created, measuring an inch wide, one that connects to a host device over Bluetooth and drawing power from a smartphone's charging port. After opening a companion app, the sensor requires a particle of saliva to be deposited for a reading.

DNA strands in the virus bind onto proteins on the sensor, in turn creating electrical resistance and triggered a positive result in the app. Once a test is completed, the sample can be destroyed using an electrical current, leaving it ready to be reused in another test.

Along with collecting airborne particles, the sensor also works to detect the virus on surfaces, via the use of a swab. Details of a positive result could feasibly be sent to an authority, such as the CDC, for tracking purposes.

The researchers claim that sensor will cost consumers about $55, and would be reusable without needing any consumables, limiting its long-term cost. By making it cheap, the sensor could feasibly make testing widespread, helping control and curtail the spread of the virus.

Currently the device is expected to enter a clinical trial in July, with a view to making it available to the public by August at the earliest.

Detection Potential

The use of electronics to detect viruses is an area Apple has considered for a while, according to patents. Apple has patent applications relating to the use of sensors to detect poisonous gas and airborne chemicals, including one from 2019 using selectively adsorbent layers that allow specific compounds to pass through to electrodes, as well as heating elements to refresh the sensor over time.

Another application from 2016 proposed an environmental sensor in a speaker enclosure, with the nature of the speaker enabling for the drawing in, capture, and expulsion of air, water, and other materials for sampling. The included sensors could range from a volatile organic compound sensor and particulate sensor, to more traditional gas, moisture, and temperature sensors.

Environmental protection also appears in an April patent, one which proposes an Apple Watch could detect water and determine if the user is drowning.

On May 14, Stanford University's Health Innovation Lab opened enrollment for a study that aims to see if wearable devices like the Apple Watch could be used to track and identify diseases like COVID-19.

A week earlier on May 7, Apple awarded $10 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund plus manufacturing machinery design assistance to COVID-19 test kit collection equipment manufacturer COPAN Diagnostics.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    georgie01georgie01 Posts: 380member
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.
  • Reply 2 of 12
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,497member
    It would be amazing if this actually works for COVID-19. Even if there were a low number of false negatives and positives it would still be valuable product that could be loaned to people instead of charging them money. Maybe as part of M4A. Of course, some government officials would demand that every result, positive or negative, be automatically sent to them but I could see it being part of the Apple/Google initiative where a positive result would be sent with the person's permission. I could see widespread acceptance depending on how the results are used. This type of research is much more useful than all the money wasted on ED, which I believe is paid for by medical insurance.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,605member
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.

    Yes. It's a shame that nobody thought to invent a sensor to detect a virus that didn't exist 6 months ago.
    Actually, this would be very helpful to minimize the effects of an inevitable second wave of infections. If not when things begin to relax this summer, but certainly as we get into the fall and winter when these things tend to proliferate.
    gilly33bageljoeymaltzStrangeDaysbaconstangfastasleepdave marshwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 12
    mac_dogmac_dog Posts: 879member
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.
    Has it stopped spreading already? Why aren’t you working for the CDC?

    Seriously, I don’t know what your qualifications are with respect to infectious diseases, but this is way out of my level of expertise. I’ll leave this to the brilliant minds of science and will take my queues from them. 
    StrangeDaysbaconstangfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 12
    Hank2.0Hank2.0 Posts: 106member
    Don't you just love Monday morning quarterbacks with their 20-20 hindsight?  
    maltzmike1StrangeDaysbaconstangbeowulfschmidtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 12
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,497member
    mike1 said:
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.

    Yes. It's a shame that nobody thought to invent a sensor to detect a virus that didn't exist 6 months ago.
    Actually, this would be very helpful to minimize the effects of an inevitable second wave of infections. If not when things begin to relax this summer, but certainly as we get into the fall and winter when these things tend to proliferate.
    Coronavirus has been around forever, the COVID-19 variation is new. Read the article, they are taking a product designed for the Zika virus and they're working on adapting it for COVID-19. This is how things work. Design something for one thing and adapt it to another when the need arises. If your first sentence is sarcasm, it isn't helpful in this pandemic. Give the scientists credit for trying something when others sit on their thumbs and do nothing.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,605member
    rob53 said:
    mike1 said:
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.

    Yes. It's a shame that nobody thought to invent a sensor to detect a virus that didn't exist 6 months ago.
    Actually, this would be very helpful to minimize the effects of an inevitable second wave of infections. If not when things begin to relax this summer, but certainly as we get into the fall and winter when these things tend to proliferate.
    Coronavirus has been around forever, the COVID-19 variation is new. Read the article, they are taking a product designed for the Zika virus and they're working on adapting it for COVID-19. This is how things work. Design something for one thing and adapt it to another when the need arises. If your first sentence is sarcasm, it isn't helpful in this pandemic. Give the scientists credit for trying something when others sit on their thumbs and do nothing.
    Of course it was sarcasm, I was referring to the first comment who was lamenting that it was too late.
    I think it's a great idea, hope it works and think it will be very helpful in the coming months.

    baconstangfastasleepbeowulfschmidtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 12
    muaddibmuaddib Posts: 76member
    They should make the sensor cherry flavor and lickable.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 12
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,173member
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.
    Interesting claims. What data supports them? The data provided months ago remains accurate — highly infectious, high R number, very long incubation period, 20% hospitalization rate, 1-3% death rate depending on age bracket. We’re on track for 100k dead in US by summer.

    Social distancing and lockdown flattened the curve, that's fact. It bought us time to learn about the virus, how to treat it, and hopefully ramp up PPE and testing supply. Had we not done so many more would be dead.

    You can’t protect the most vulnerable without social distancing and measures taken by all. 14 day asymptomatic incubation period is what does it — you feel fine and have no idea you’re shedding virus. 

    But it's not even about just the "most vulnerable" (in your head, old people). My brother and his wife are in their 50s with no unusual conditions and over the weekend were hospitalized with COVID19 and double pneumonia, and real low oxygen - we don't know what's going to happen. Their son is in his late 20s with it, similar condition. This isn’t just about old people. 

    Again — this isn’t just old people. You can't fix the economy until you contain the pandemic. Since they blew it at the start, the lockdown was the only other option. It worked, as deaths are trending down.




    edited May 2020 baconstangfastasleepdave marshmuthuk_vanalingambeowulfschmidtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 12
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,292member
    georgie01 said:
    A great device that would have been of far more use months ago. Not meaning to complain, just saying that it’s of limited use now. We created a hysteria about this coronavirus based on severely inaccurate predictions and models (and a hysterical media and leaders). If we had better testing earlier on to get a better picture of who has it and how people respond to it we could have reduced the extent that we’ve damaged our country by locking down people who are at very low risk and instead focussed on protecting those who are most vulnerable.

    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.
    What's most interesting to me about these moronic posts is that they're all the same cookie cutter flawed logic and similar messaging (almost like these folks get their talking points from the same sources):

    1) "Hysteria" based on "inaccurate predictions and models" — completely ignoring the fact that the actions taken due to this perceived hysteria, namely mitigation measures and social distancing, are what caused the lower numbers and thus the shifting of the models. It's beyond frustrating that this has to be explained, but some of those high estimates would've been easily hit had we done nothing at all.

    2) Of course we should've had better testing early on. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out why we didn't do that. The timeline is pretty well established at this point.

    3) "Locking down people who are at very low risk" completely ignores the entire issue of asymptomatic carriers, as well as the fact that it's not entirely clear who is at what level of risk as we see young, healthy people get very very sick or die from this. This is also fairly well documented at this point, and there are still a lot of unknowns in figuring out this virus.

    4) The appeal to emotion fallacy over failure to protect nursing home patients somehow pointing to failure of all mitigation measures as a whole.

    Somehow all this adds up to a testing device not being of much use now, even as we ignore the reality on the ground and plow straight ahead into tossing everyone — including those nursing home patients and their caregivers — back in the water with the sharks. At this point I'm just waiting curiously to see how many bodies have to pile up before this magical thinking that the economy is more important than human lives starts to fail.






    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 12
    dave marshdave marsh Posts: 330member
    As an older person (70s) with an immunosuppressive spouse (kidney transplant), this kind of a quick test would be valuable to have when the inevitable wave returns this fall flu season, if not in the interim since we have such poor population testing and the virus is still fully active in the wild.  Some medical people are now suggesting that the spread of the current pandemic is so widespread that we should expect the virus to become endemic in the population forever, much as ordinary flu is now.

    I understand testing is not curing, but it would be helpful to know to go to the doctor quickly in our circumstances if a quick test were available.
    watto_cobrafastasleep
  • Reply 12 of 12
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,345member
    georgie01 said:
    As it is, places like Pennsylvania have had 70% of their deaths in nursing homes and other similar care facilities despite the lockdown for everyone. The most vulnerable weren’t being adequately protected but the economy still suffers.
    It has apparently not occurred to you that the reason that nursing homes (et al) had such a high rate of infection and deaths is because those people were trapped in the facility, and that the reason the infection/death rate is lower in the general population there is because -- until recently -- most people listened to the scientists, self-isolated, and took protective measures like glove and mask-wearing, social distancing, etc.

    In short, their advice worked, and where that advice could not or was not followed, it didn't work.
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