This COVID-19 Detector Has Berkeley Lab Roots

How an atomically thin device could become a biotech breakthrough
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
20-May-2020 5:15 PM EDT, by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Newswise — A technology spun from carbon nanotube sensors discovered 20 years ago by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientists could one day help healthcare providers test patients for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. 

When Alex Zettl, Marvin Cohen, and their research teams at Berkeley Lab first demonstrated ultrasensitive oxygen sensors devised from carbon nanotubes – hollow carbon wires with walls no thicker than an atom– they envisioned a broad spectrum of applications, such as gas-leak detectors or air- and water-pollution detectors.

Subsequent studies out of Zettl’s lab revealed that carbon nanotubes – or CNTs – could also be used to detect proteins or carbohydrates at the level of single cells for biological and medical applications. “CNTs’ exquisite chemical sensitivity had dramatic life-science implications that could benefit society,” Zettl said.

But since Zettl normally investigates atomically thin materials known as nanomaterials for the Department of Energy’s “Novel sp2-Bonded Materials and Related Nanostructures” program, his lab is set up for launching exciting new experiments in quantum physics, not new applications for entrepreneurial startups.

So in 2000, Zettl and Cohen, who are both senior faculty scientists in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and physics professors at UC Berkeley, branched out into the world of commercial spin-offs by co-founding the Emeryville-based biotech company Nanomix Inc. They currently sit on the company’s board of directors – Zettl participates as an adviser, and Cohen as a member.

Today, the company is one of many U.S. companies vying for FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to deploy new diagnostic tests for COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Last month, the company was awarded approximately $570,000 in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to develop disposable cartridges that test for protein traces of the coronavirus – known as antigens – in nasal swab samples, and for antibodies to the coronavirus in blood samples.

Patient samples loaded onto the cartridges are analyzed by the Nanomix “eLab,” a handheld testing device the company first developed more than five years ago in response to the Ebola virus epidemic.

The cartridges rely on tiny carbon biosensors modeled after the Zettl and Cohen labs’ groundbreaking carbon nanotube technology to detect coronavirus antigens during the early stages of a current infection. In addition, the cartridges can test for antibodies the immune system builds up as part of our body’s natural defense mechanism against a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. The company says the eLab system can produce test results in about 15 minutes.

If granted FDA Emergency Use Authorization, the company hopes to have COVID-19-ready eLab products available for healthcare providers in June, and to scale up its supply and production capacity to provide hundreds of thousands of test kits, said Nanomix President and CEO David Ludvigson.

“The fact that my research could help so many people is very rewarding. I'm happy that I was able to contribute in that way,” Zettl said.  

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

 

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.

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Released: 13-Aug-2020 1:05 PM EDT
Additive Manufacturing for COVID-19
Materials Research Society (MRS)

A new Prospective article—Additive Manufacturing for COVID-19: Devices, Materials, Prospects and Challenges—published in MRS Communications, looks at these critical supply issues and provides an overview of 3D printing and how coupling the tools in additive manufacturing (AM) and advanced materials has provided a viable alternative for rapid production and distribution of PPEs and medical devices.

Newswise: Busting Up the Infection Cycle of Hepatitis B
Released: 13-Aug-2020 12:50 PM EDT
Busting Up the Infection Cycle of Hepatitis B
University of Delaware

Researchers at the University of Delaware have gained new understanding of the virus that causes hepatitis B and the “spiky ball” that encloses the virus’s genetic blueprint. They examined how the capsid—a protein shell that protects the blueprint and also drives the delivery of it to infect a host cell—assembles itself. Scientists believe that the capsid is an important target in developing drugs to treat hepatitis B, a life-threatening and incurable infection that afflicts more than 250 million people worldwide.

Newswise: 240097_web.jpg
Released: 13-Aug-2020 12:05 PM EDT
Stay-at-home orders significantly associated with reduced spread of COVID-19, study finds
Brown University

Across the globe, COVID-19 has infected more than 18 million people to date and has killed hundreds of thousands -- and the United States has been hit especially hard.

Released: 13-Aug-2020 11:45 AM EDT
COVID-19 Symptom Tracker Ensures Privacy During Isolation
Georgetown University Medical Center

An online COVID-19 symptom tracking tool developed by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center ensures a person’s confidentiality while being able to actively monitor their symptoms. The tool is not proprietary and can be used by entities that are not able to develop their own tracking systems.

Newswise: Support for telehealth and mobile health monitoring rises since COVID, study says
Released: 13-Aug-2020 11:25 AM EDT
Support for telehealth and mobile health monitoring rises since COVID, study says
University of Alabama Huntsville

Support for telehealth and mobile health monitoring has risen among healthcare workers and consumers since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study. Dr. Emil Jovanov, a pioneer in the wearable health monitoring field from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), participated and was a coauthor.

Newswise: Americans actively engaging in collectivism as financial buoy, experts say
Released: 13-Aug-2020 11:25 AM EDT
Americans actively engaging in collectivism as financial buoy, experts say
University of Notre Dame

Karen Richman, University of Notre Dame director of undergraduate studies at the Institute for Latino Studies, and her colleague, found that many people in the U.S. are relying on informal networks of family and friends to stay afloat in a recent study.

Newswise: 240116_web.jpg
Released: 13-Aug-2020 11:20 AM EDT
Researchers identify a protein that may help SARS-CoV-2 spread rapidly through cells
Colorado State University

Eric Ross and Sean Cascarina, biochemistry and molecular biology researchers at Colorado State University, have released a research paper identifying a protein encoded by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that may be associated with the quick spread of the virus through cells in the human body.

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Released: 13-Aug-2020 11:05 AM EDT
Public health consequences of policing homelessness
University of Colorado Denver

Two weeks ago, Colorado State Patrol troopers began clearing out nearly 200 residents from homeless encampments that surround the Colorado Capitol.

Released: 13-Aug-2020 10:35 AM EDT
Age discrimination seen @Twitter during #COVID19 pandemic
University of Michigan

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm for age discrimination on social media.

Released: 13-Aug-2020 10:15 AM EDT
New COVID-19 Model Reveals Need for Better Travel Restriction Implementation
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

More strategic and coordinated travel restrictions could have reduced the spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, data confirms. The conclusion, available in preprint on MedRxiv, an online repository of papers that have been screened but not peer reviewed, stems from new modeling conducted by a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


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