Proposal for airborne virus testing funded

Project Title: Airborne virus harvesting, detection and diagnostics inspired by origin of life

Collaborative Research Fund (CRF) project 2020/21 by Professor A.H.C. Shum

The COVID-19 pandemic can be transmitted through respiratory droplets and contact. In particular, airborne transmission of the virus is becoming a critical factor in controlling future outbreaks. However, the study of the airborne virus remains limited – partly due to the lack of comprehensive and effective methods for sampling and analyzing airborne viruses.

In the One-off Collaborative Research Fund Coronavirus Disease and Novel Infectious Disease Exercise 2020, we propose to develop novel techniques for airborne coronavirus sampling, concentration, and detection. First, the airborne coronavirus will be sampled by condensation and concentration with aqueous two-phase system (ATPS)-based separation. Then, the presence of the enriched virus samples will be detected online by bioassays on flexible microfluidic systems. Moreover, the viral load of the sampled coronaviruses will be quantified at a single-virus level by droplet confinement and manipulations. The goal is to deliver ready-to-use prototype microchips for airborne virus sampling and enrichment, and finally an integrated device for sample incubation and virus screening.

The proposed first-of-its-kind virus sampling techniques can achieve high efficiency and biocompatibility simultaneously, enabling the study of the airborne virus and hence boosting the understanding of the airborne virus transmission mechanisms and helping to monitor the airborne viruses in the community. Moreover, the proposed all aqueous two-phase system phase separation-based assays provides a demonstration for testing airborne viruses with extremely low concentration. The proposed test devices have high potential for development into standardized and commercialized portable devices towards population-based screening, which could play a significant role in preventing future epidemics and pandemics.