IDRC funds modification of a glucose meter to detect COVID-19
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dr Pardee’s team considered adapting their ‘lab in a box’ platform to increase the capacity to detect the novel pathogen. Their previous work, funded by IDRC and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to detect Zika virus infections, enabled the team to quickly modify a widely available and low-cost glucose meter to detect the genetic material of the coronavirus, resulting in a signal.
A recent paper in Nature Communications describes the science behind these cell-free systems that can detect the genetic material of different pathogens. This low-cost, fast, and easily accessible diagnostic technology can be used in isolated communities. Evan Amalfitano, the lead author of the paper and a PhD candidate on Dr Pardee’s team, says that getting the device to work was a challenge, but their efforts paid off. Dr Pardee, a synthetic biologist, has developed several cell-free systems to detect various pathogens.
With their system, genetic material from patient samples is extracted and amplified. These samples are then tested to determine if the pathogen’s genetic material is present. If detected, a genetic switch called a “toehold switch” is activated, producing an enzyme that generates glucose. The glucose meter indicates the glucose level. This result indicates whether the switch was activated, meaning that the pathogen’s genetic material is present.
Dr Pardee noted that, “Support from IDRC was critical for our group to quickly launch the COVID-19 diagnostics effort in the lab and has been instrumental in establishing a global network of collaborators for trials of the technology.” The project also brings together research teams based in Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia, and the resulting diagnostic tool may have a significant impact in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and other regions in the developing world. IDRC’s support of this project was made available through the Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.