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Technology Transfer for Defense is a cross-campus effort of the Precourt Institute for Energy

ViroMeter: A Portable Health Assessment

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PI: Utkan Demirci; Co-PI: Akin Demir

Department: School of Medicine Radiology

Sponsor: United States Navy (USN) ONR NEPTUNE Program

The COVID19 pandemic has critically disrupted the key activities of daily life for both civil society and military’s active duty personnel as well as the civilian employees, potentially jeopardizing the economic status and security of the United States. The primary driver for rapid disease spread in COVID19 is the lack of wide-scale and repeat testing. The reasons for this are essentially twofold: 1) the number of actually available rapid diagnostic testing devices are too few for the demand and 2) the majority of the COVID19 disease spread occurs via infected but asymptomatic individuals (there is a lag of about 9-14 days before disease symptoms become noticeable after infection). Despite the formidable threat posed by this airborne and highly transmissible virus, the U.S. Department of Defense and all of its sub-branches, such as Navy and Marine Corps, need to stay in charge and maintain mission readiness of the force at all times; a duty that can only be achieved by rapid identification and isolation of infected but asymptomatic military personnel through the use of portable and cheap point-of care diagnostic devices that are deployed very widely. The testing/viral surveillance need to be done frequently and repeatedly on the entire DoD-ONR personnel on the Navy vessels and ashore-personnel and their families. Not doing so predisposes the Department’s force to incapacitating and surprise disease outbreaks either within the mission critical operational units or within personnel and training pipelines that feed those units. A key example happened at sea; when ~1000 of sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier deployed in the Pacific tested positive for COVID19 and the majority of them were hospitalized. As a consequence, within a few days, the Roosevelt went from a mission ready and potent symbol of American power, to a relegated boat docked inactive. This project addresses these types of unmet needs in the Navy and Marine Corps and proposes to adapt an existing viral RNA diagnostic device to COVID19 detection, infection tracing and remote alerting. The device, ViroMeter, is cheap (<$100), hand-held, fabricated from off-the shelf available parts, has on-board remote alerting capability and easy to manufacture at large scale.  ViroMeter is currently at a working prototype phase and going through optimization studies for COVID19 detection at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. The detection is achieved by standard real-time Reverse Transcription and quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR) assay to detect viral genome, as recommended by the US CDC. The proposed activities in this application focus on two goals:  1) further engineer and optimize the ViroMeter for robustness and ease of operation and 2) pre-clinically validate the utility of the device via saliva samples for Navy and Marine Corps usage. We expect our ViroMeter device to be a game changer in the stopping of COVID19 transmission from person-to person, especially at locations at high risk for rapid disease spread, such as crowded office/workplace spaces, on navy fleets and training sites.

Furthermore, successful development of this device will lead into filling of a void for a more generic and easily deployable active virus bio-surveillance tool that have timely tri-service reporting system (Disease Reporting System internet, DRSi) communications capabilities that allow rapid implementation of control measures to limit the spread of COVID19 and other similar high-casualty respiratory infections in future, such as avian and swine flu, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Zika, Norovirus infections and Ebola.

H4D Focus Areas: Biotechnology, Technology Transition

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