UC designs home test for influenza

Study finds promise for testing saliva for flu or coronavirus

One challenge of coronavirus testing is the unpleasant nasal swab that patients say can feel like a poke to the brain.

University of Cincinnati researchers are working on new technology that can concentrate a sample of saliva to test for viruses at home without waiting for third-party lab results.

Amy Drexelius, a graduate student in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, designed new home testing kits in UC’s Novel Device Lab and put them to the test to detect influenza A.

A virus from respiratory diseases like influenza is not as concentrated in saliva as in the nasal passages. So researchers have to concentrate a sample before testing it. Researchers found the device designed by UC was able to concentrate the saliva sample by 30 times with potential for 100 or more.

The study was published in the journal Biomicrofluidics.

A student in a facemask, latex gloves and a labcoat pipes a sample into a beaker at a lab bench.

UC graduate student Amy Drexelius works in UC's Novel Device Lab where she conducted experiments on UC's latest point-of-care devices. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

“Coronavirus has put a big spotlight on point-of-care diagnostics,” Drexelius said. “We’re trying to make preconcentration of the sample quicker and easier so testing is possible outside a lab.”

A test strip in a sample cup.

UC designed and tested new point-of-care devices that can concentrate a sample of saliva to identify viruses such as influenza or coronavirus. Photo/Amy Drexelius

People who are sick don’t want to infect other people at a doctor’s office or lab, she said. And home tests can be significantly cheaper than a lab or doctor’s visit.

“People don’t want to wait three days for test results. In the meantime, you can’t go to work. You have to quarantine yourself,” she said. “Having a quick, accurate home test is the goal.”

While the UC study did not examine coronavirus specifically, it concluded the device would be effective at detecting coronavirus. Like the flu, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease in which the virus is present in saliva.

The study also examined the efficacy of using the UC device to concentrate a sample of urine to test for a pregnancy hormone. UC found that this sample, too, was concentrated effectively by at least 16 times.

Amy Drexelius wearing a facemask looks through a microscope in a lab.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science graduate student Amy Drexelius peers through a microscope in UC's Novel Device Lab. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

One drawback researchers identified was the time required to concentrate a sample — 30 minutes in initial results — which is likely too slow for practical commercial use.

“If you don’t have a device that works in minutes, no patient or doctor will buy it,” Drexelius said.

Since the experiment, UC’s team has developed the ability to concentrate samples in less than a minute. The study demonstrated the exciting potential for these new home testing kits, she said.

“One of our goals with this preconcentration technology was to take the diagnostics out of the lab and get them into the home,” she said.

UC partnered with UES, Inc. and the Human Performance Wing of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Featured image at top: UC graduate student Amy Drexelius holds up two home tests for influenza. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

A student in a labcoat and gloves works at a lab bench.

UC graduate student Amy Drexelius, here photographed in 2019 before the global pandemic, works in UC's Novel Device Lab. Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand

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