A professor at Texas Tech University invented a potentially game-changing technology to help the world navigate through the next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Gerardine Gerri Botte, a professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech University's Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering, announced UFC-19, an ultra-fast Covid-19 detection sensor. This test can detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in saliva in 100 milliseconds.
The product developed results from a partnership between Texas Tech faculty research and the university's entrepreneurial program accessible through Texas Tech’s Innovation Hub at Research Park.
The Innovation Hub is a resource within Texas Tech designed to nurture budding entrepreneurs. Students and faculty can tap the available resources for funding and mentorship. The 40,000 square-foot Innovation Hub helps entrepreneurs form new technology startup companies.
Dr. Gerardine Gerri Botte. Dr. Botte used her expertise in chemical engineering to found a biotech company called EviroTech. She joined the Texas Tech Division of Chemical Engineering in 2019. She has extensive research experience and is an entrepreneur.
Evirotech, in partnership with the Innovation Hub, received working capital from the Department of Defense and other sources such as the Prototype Fund, Presidents' Innovation Award, and the National Science Foundation's I-Corps program. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works with the Department of Defense (DoD) "to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security."
Evirontech patented the technology. The company has applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). If approved, people would have the option of rapid home testing that can sync directly to their phones. An accurate, easy-to-use home test will help people make safety decisions for themselves and their families.
EviroTech announced a four-million-dollar investment from German company 1701 Ventures GmbH to help the project get off the ground. This capital will allow EviroTech to begin production and distribution.
Scaling up rapid and frequent testing may be one of the tools the world needs to reopen fully. Covid-19 vaccines and immunity from natural infection have made a significant dent in Covid-19 cases. Texas has confirmed almost 2.5 million cases so far and currently is averaging about 1000 cases per day. At the same time, the rise of Covid-19 variants rages out of control in India and Brazil.
Covid testing has slowed in Texas, but it remains a crucial element in our fight against the pandemic. Testing allows doctors to diagnose and treat those who have Covid-19. Testing enables health workers to do contact tracing and find others who may have been exposed. Testing with genetic sequencing provides information to the public health system to track trends in specific communities.
University researchers across Texas have provided crucial data and cutting-edge innovations to assist public health experts in the fight against Covid-19.
Researchers at Texas A&M University recently identified a new Covid-19 variant called BV-1 by performing genetic sequencing on Covid strains from severe, mild, and asymptomatic infections. UT Southwestern genetic scientists in Dallas identified the first North Texas case of the Brazil P.1 Covid-19.
Texas Tech University's collaboration to create the UFC-19 Ultra-fast Covid-19 detection sensor could be a way for public health experts to track the prevalence of the disease going forward. The ultra-fast COVID-19 sensor is an antigen-based electrochemical device. Antigen testing detects SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins at an early stage of infection.
Antigen testing is less expensive than PCR tests. It also detects active disease, unlike antibody tests which show evidence of a past Covid-19 infection. The UFC-19 Ultra Fast antigen detection sensor uses saliva instead of a deep sala swab.
A negative antigen test is slightly less accurate than a PCR test, but antigen testing is highly accurate at detecting if someone has an active COVID-19 infection. Antigen testing can also be performed as a point-of-care test. The UFC-19 Ultra Fast test results are available in 100 milliseconds.
The CDC has provided guidance on how to interpret rapid antigen testing.
As the US economy reopens, a scalable, rapid-testing solution could help schools, summer camps, airports, concert venues, and other public gatherings get back to normal. Individuals would have the ability to test themselves at home to detect an early, asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection and prevent spreading the disease.
The UFC-19 Ultra Fast test requires only the detection sensor, a drop of saliva, and a cell phone. An individual would have the test results in seconds.
Take a tour of the Texas Tech Innovation Hub at Research Park here.