Using Graphene Sensors to Create Virus Field Tests

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Offering answers in just minutes, graphene sensing chips could be manufactured for pennies each.

Grolltex, based in San Diego, together with La Jolla’s Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, is designing a flexible, versatile virus testing platform that could be employed in COVID 19 virus testing, through utilizing disposable plastic testing chips and hand held reader units, at U.S. points of entry, field hospitals or any remote or point of care site.

A system such as this has the potential to become fundamental in understanding and drastically restricting the spread of not only COVID 19, but other current and emerging viruses.

For a number of years, graphene sensors have been shown to have advanced detection and testing capabilities in fields like genomics, advanced allergen sensing and small molecule-protein receptor interactions in addition to virus detection, including Zika.  As shown in the very latest scientific literature, a graphene-based sensor offers a strong capability for the detection of the COVID 19 virus.

When we saw the COVID 19 virus detection work come out in the literature, showing sensitive and selective detection with a graphene sensor, we knew we had to jump on this project. Productization and roll out of a sensor like this is right in our technology wheelhouse. We’re very thankful for the quick response of the folks at Sanford Burnham with their help on the science and testing. It would take many more months, maybe even years, without them.

Jeff Draa, CEO, Grolltex

Grolltex (for ‘graphene-rolling-technologies’) is an advanced materials and sensor company that uses technology and patents designed by one of their co-founders, Dr. Aliaksandr Zaretski, starting back from when he was a grad student at UCSD.  Even the first seed round to kickstart the company originated from a UCSD backed venture project, The Triton Fund, that invests in university spin outs, with later funding drawn from San Diego’s Tech Coast Angels and additional local investors. To date, every senior technical employee is an alumni of the Jacobs School of Engineering, at UCSD.

As for the project, the ‘graphene sensor chip on plastic’ platform is micro-fluidically plumbed, which means it only needs an extremely small biological sample (measured in nano-liters) and it is also ‘multiplexed’ meaning it can conduct between four to twelve, or more, viral tests simultaneously, offering results that may be able to denote the presence of a ‘typical’ flu bug vs. COIVD 19 or other serious pathogens.  It is also plumbed with several ‘control’ channels, abolishing time consuming verification steps and helping to supply answers in minutes. 

The sensor utilizes a single atom thick layer material, monolayer graphene, that is commonly recognized as the most sensitive, most suitable biosensing material presently available for advanced life science sensing requirements. In addition to the graphene, the company places more proprietary and patented nanotechnology that Dr. Zaretski discovered while at UCSD, which includes a unique sensing capability composed of ‘gold nano-islands’. Utilizing the Grolltex industrial-scale graphene manufacturing platform, these sensing chips can be manufactured for pennies each and in arrays of around 10,000 per single square foot sheet, 100 sheets at a time.

The next task, Draa explains, is finding a local investor or partner to aid in scaling this testing platform. “We currently have our hands full with several prototyping efforts in place in other areas, ranging from glucose detection in saliva to a wearable blood pressure monitor in a patch configuration.  But when the Sanford Burnham folks volunteered the science help on this COVID virus detection platform, we knew we had to jump on it,”

Today we don’t have the bandwidth to roll this virus detection platform out, once the science is done. We’re still a small start-up so we’re looking for a financial or resource partner to help us get this up to volume and in the right hands. We know we’re in one of the best locations in the U.S. for an effort like this so once we make the partnering connections, the ramp will be fast.

Jeff Draa, CEO, Grolltex

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Grolltex Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit Grolltex Inc.

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