Point of Care Testing of SARS-CoV-2 by Using Smart Phone-Based Fluorescence Imaging

illustration of smart phone

Across the country and around the world, there is urgent need for rapid and reliable testing for COVID-19 in order to contain the virus and understand its spread.

Led by Louis Mansky, PhD, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology, this study involves creating a test using a smart phone that could detect COVID-19 immediately.

“Tests could be done on site, using a smart phone (with an attachment) as a fluorescence microscope to detect virus particles in a swab sample,” he said. “There is no need to send anything to a lab. The idea is to mix the swab sample with fluorescently-labeled nanoparticles that will specifically bind to virus particles. A small mixed sample would be put into the attachment and viewed with the smart phone.”

Mansky’s deep experience in molecular virology is readily applied to the question of virus testing, as many of the techniques in testing are commonly used. The Institute for Molecular Virology provides key synergy in bringing together colleagues from many health and science disciplines from across the University and around the country, with complementary expertise in virology. This collaboration and trust, which has been in place for years, is helping to propel this research forward.

“While the issues around testing are readily seen by most Americans, what is not seen is the absolutely astounding progress in research knowledge about this novel coronavirus,” said Mansky. “I do not believe there has ever been such progress so quickly following a virus outbreak. It’s simply amazing how scientists have mobilized. The public does not see this, because the focus is on other aspects of this public health crisis that have lagged behind.”

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.