RAPID Award for the development of a Rapid SARS-CoV2 Test

Ken Halvorsen

(April 29, 2020) The Halvorsen Lab at the RNA Institute at the University At Albany was recently awarded an NSF grant for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) to develop an alternative diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2 using DNA nanoswitches.

A critical aspect of controlling the current COVID-19 outbreak is early and fast detection of the infected population. Current methods for detecting the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 typically require a laboratory and use expensive equipment and reagents. These requirements limit the number of tests that can be performed nationwide.

DNA nanoswitches are a unique method for viral RNA detection with several key advantages. First, they do not require enzymes, a key driver of cost, complexity, and supply bottlenecks in the current nucleic acid tests being used. Second, this DNA nanoswitch based method does not require amplification of the target RNA, the main step in current detection methods which is extremely sensitive to cross contamination. Third, DNA nanoswitch assays can be performed with minimal or no lab infrastructure (Zhou et.al).

In collaboration with the Wong Lab at the Wyss Institute, the Halvorsen Lab will re-engineer their DNA nanoswitch assay to deliver a rapid SARS-CoV-2 test result within 1 hour without the need of a laboratory.

This work will have impacts for the current pandemic and beyond. If successful, the approach could be commercialized and used to help ramp up testing for SARS-CoV-2, which has been a notable bottleneck for combatting the virus, especially in the US. Beyond the current pandemic, the approach is modular and programmable and could be adapted to other viruses to provide rapid transition from viral outbreak to widespread testing.

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