Faster COVID-19 antibody test


A more efficient and much faster method to assess high levels of neutralizing antibodies to COVID-19 could pave the way to better understanding and treatment of the disease, according to new published findings by scientists from the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation and the University of Michigan.

A new portable “lab on a chip,” developed by the University of Michigan scientists and demonstrated with help of the CDI, can identify the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in blood donors with greater speed and efficiency than the current standard “enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay” or ELISA technology.

The researchers showed the device can identify COVID-19 antibodies in human blood in 15 minutes much shorter than the few days the process normally takes. The test can also be done with smaller amounts of blood. The work could have particular value for the validation of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. A paper on the findings is published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

Convalescent plasma is a treatment that can be very effective but for it to have the best chance to work, it needs to have rigorous standards, which include assessing the presence of high-titer neutralizing antibodies. The study shows how the antibody thresholds can mean a better potential COVID-19 treatment and also better outcomes. Indeed, the research shows what an important role microfluidics can play in both saving lives and costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The invented device detects the presence and amount of neutralizing immunoglobulin which are usually antibodies created by the immune system within seven to 10 days of a COVID-19 infection. Only donors with high levels are likely to provide samples that could be effective in treatment, such as convalescent plasma therapy.

The treatment involves taking plasma the liquid portion of the blood that contains antibodies from survivors and infusing it into sick patients to boost their immune response. Thousands of patients nationally have been administered convalescent plasma through a program overseen by the Mayo Clinic. Hackensack University Medical Center also has its own clinical trial underway involving high-titer (levels) of antibodies.

The lab-on-a-chip approach developed analyzes on-site and requires just a finger prick’s worth of blood 8 microliters. The traditional ELISA methods require 100 microliters to do its work. The system is contained in a device the size of a portable 3D printer.

Faster COVID-19 antibody test - Medicine Innovates

About the author

Xudong (Sherman) Fan, Ph.D.

Professor, Biomedical Engineering

Prof. Fan’s research focuses on using various micro/nano photonic devices, such as high quality optical resonators, photonic crystals, optical fibers, and nanoparticles, for sensitive detection of biological markers in body fluids (like blood, saliva, or breath) and in exhaled breath that indicate the occurrence of various diseases such as cancers. These devices can also be field-deployed to rapidly identify biological or chemical threats, and to monitor the chemical levels that reflect the environmental changes. Professor Fan is also interested in bio-inspired photonic devices, where biological processes such as enzymatic cleavage and DNA hybridization are employed to control and manipulate light. In addition, Professor Fan is working on translating lab research into commercial products that can benefit the whole society.

Research Areas: Bio-MEMS and Microfluidics, Bio-Micro Nanotechnology and Molecular Engineering, Biomedical Imaging, Biomedical Imaging and Optics, Biomedical Optics.


Xiaotian Tan, Mila Krel, Enriko Dolgov, Steven Park, Xuzhou Li, Weishu Wu, Yun-Lu Sun, Jie Zhang, Maung Kyaw Khaing Oo, David S. Perlin, Xudong Fan. Rapid and quantitative detection of SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG for convalescent serum evaluationBiosensors and Bioelectronics, 2020; 169: 112572 DOI: 10.1016/j.bios.2020.112572

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