Device could test for Zika at airports

Underdevelopment at FAU
Posted at 10:44 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-16 04:08:59-04

Testing for Zika virus could be on verge of a major breakthrough. What takes hours in a lab right now, could take 15 minutes at the airport.

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With the mosquito-transmitted virus, it’s a matter of yes or no: do I have Zika or not?  And the wait for moms is especially tense. If the answer is yes, her child may not develop normally. And there’s no vaccine.

The device fits in your hand, and you don’t need a Ph.D. like Florida Atlantic University Assistant Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering Waseem Asghar has to operate it.

“Take a small saliva sample and 15 minutes later, we can tell whether someone is infected or uninfected,” he says.

With the vast majority of Zika cases reported in the United States travel related, Asghar has a specific vision for the tablet sized device.

“Our thought is why can’t we have some kind of screening device at the airport where people can be screened?”

It could also work in urgent cares, a gynecologist office or anywhere. Internationally, in underdeveloped countries.

The alternative right now are bulky machines that start at $20,000. One test takes hours. This device costs around $100 to make, using trays that cost a few cents. No blood is needed to provide an accurate answer, fast, 12 tests at a time.

“We really want to know, really want to know whether someone is infected with Zika or not,” he says.

The device is slightly different version from another virus detecting device Ashgar has also worked on.

“We’ve had very good success in the case of HIV, so we thought to modify that protocol for Zika virus detection,” he says.

The device could potentially be used for detecting other viruses beside HIV or Zika.

The Florida Department of Health granted almost $200,000 to FAU for the project.  They hope to have a prototype done by summer, and ready to be distributed commercially sometime next year.