A team of Rutgers researchers merged their ideas and technology with the support of research mentors to get the needed funds for developing a novel device capable of detecting the presence of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 in one’s breath.
“In addition to helping diagnose COVID-19, the goal of the project is to create a platform that can be expanded into a future, easy-to-use, non-invasive rapid breathalyzer to diagnostic respiratory diseases, including possible future pandemics,” said Principal Investigator Edward DeMauro, assistant professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who runs the Emil Buehler Supersonic Wind Tunnel.
The breathalyzer-type device will allow people to breathe into it, collect aerosol particles when they exhale, deposit the particles into an electronic biosensor, and give a quick result. The device will also be amenable to easy reconfiguration to detect several different respiratory viruses, infections, or illnesses. The team of researchers expects to present the prototype in two years.
“I have a four-year-old daughter and I can get her to breathe into a device like the one we are developing. There are plenty of existing tests, including Rutgers’ saliva tests, that are also minimally invasive. And for reopening large venues, we also want to get results quickly at the point of administration. Our target for results is 10 minutes, which is precisely what our preliminary data is showing us with SARS-CoV-2,” added DeMauro.
The breathalyzer will also use another technology created at Rutgers by Mehdi Javanmard, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“We had the concept, the pieces of technology, and we wanted to use a sensor developed by professor Mehdi Javanmard. We had the expertise for the filtration system and for capturing aerosol particles from the breath or droplets that can infect other people,” said co-PI German Drazer, professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering. “HealthAdvance supported us through their structure, providing a mentor and their willingness to help a team succeed.”
DeMauro, Drazer and Hao Lin are using their knowledge and experience with collecting and removing samples of industrial contaminants from the air, in conjunction with Javanmard’s electronic sensor, for detecting different types of proteins in bodily fluids. Lin is also a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
“When we got the opportunity to promote this special funding announcement internally through HealthAdvance, we received interest from several scientists including Drs. DeMauro and Drazer. Rising to the challenge, the innovators prepared their application at an accelerated pace and in close collaboration with their HealthAdvance Mentor-in-Residence engaged by the program, a resource we provide to any invited application,” explained Pragati Sharma, Rutgers HealthAdvance Fund™ manager. “It is an excellent technology with a huge potential when it comes to the market. Also, this opportunity would not be available to Rutgers principal investigators had it not been for the NIH REACH initiative which is a co-sponsor of HealthAdvance.”
HealthAdvance Fund™ is the funding platform of Rutgers Optimizes Innovation (ROI) program which supports the development of innovative technologies with an impact on human health by providing financial support as well as engaging expert consultants to help guide innovators through the process of commercialization of their research. The ROI program was established with a $4 million grant received in 2019 under the NIH Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) with the goal of energizing the innovation culture across all university campuses to speed up the translation of biomedical discoveries into commercially viable diagnostics, devices, therapeutics, and tools to improve health and patient care, and to also train a new generation of innovators.
The Rutgers HealthAdvance Fund is run by Innovation Ventures within the Office for Research. Innovation Ventures’ mission is to partner with the Rutgers community to encourage deliberate innovation, protect and leverage Rutgers intellectual property, foster collaboration with industry, and enable entrepreneurship.
“As mechanical and aerospace engineers, we often work on products that not necessarily see the immediate light of day and we don’t necessarily have the opportunity to help people directly, like our own children, disabled people or the average persons like my mother who have had to sit at home during the pandemic. This award allows us to work on a product that will help improve people’s lives and bring us closer to resuming our normal activities,” concluded DeMauro.