Holonyak Lab's Rashid Bashir developing innovative COVID-19 testing technology

7/21/2020 9:56:15 AM

The University of Illinois prides itself on having been at the forefront of innovation and education for over 150 years, and this moment of crisis is no different. Come August, schools and universities across the globe will need to reckon with controlling the spread of COVID-19 among their student bodies whether they are in-person or preparing for spring semester. Solutions have been suggested rapidly around the world, but our University of Illinois faculty have consistently proposed ideas that will provide accuracy, safety, and peace of mind in controlling the pandemic. One such solution has been proposed by none other than the Dean of the Grainger College of Engineering, Rashid Bashir, and funded by the Jump ARCHES endowment, which fosters collaboration between engineers and physicians. 

Rashid Bashir
Rashid Bashir

Rapid SARS-CoV-2 Detection from Nasal Swab Extracts, proposed by Dean Bashir in response to the Jump ARCHES COVID-19 Priority Call for grants addressing pandemics, has the potential of testing a large number of people rapidly and easily. A low-cost, quick, and reliable testing technique is necessary to campus reopening in the fall, which is estimated to bring nearly 50,000 people back to Champaign-Urbana. The current reopening plan includes testing every student and staff member upon return to campus and continuing to test at intervals based on class schedules. Bashir’s testing technique may be among the processes used.

The technique uses loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) in a COVID-19 diagnostics assay. “We have already demonstrated results within one hour of sample acquisition,” said Bashir, Holonyak Lab faculty member. Instrumentation used for LAMP can be simpler and more portable as compared to PCR and could be important in point-of-use testing for a range of applications. “The testing is being performed on patient samples of discarded viral transport media from nasopharyngeal swab tests from OSF HealthCare,” added Bashir.

Bashir’s co-principal investigators include postdoctoral students Anurup Ganguli and Enrique Valera, and Dr. Sarah Stewart de Ramirez of OSF HealthCare. A unique feature of the Jump ARCHES endowment is that it allows researchers from multiple institutions to work together on proposals such as this one. “Jump ARCHES enabled the clinical collaboration with Dr. Sarah Stewart de Ramirez of OSF, who arranged for IRB (Institutional Review Board) and acquisition of patient viral transport media samples from nasopharyngeal swab tests,” said Bashir. “Without this partnership, we would not have had access to the samples necessary to complete our research.”

While their proposed work focused on rapid, point-of-use viral transport media testing from nasopharyngeal swabs, the next phase will focus on saliva samples as acquired. Working with the SHIELD Team from campus, Bashir’s team is currently working on another IRB to acquire saliva samples from OSF hospitals and other locations. Validation of rapid isothermal LAMP tests for saliva may be used to augment the RT-PCR tests developed for large-scale deployment.

A saliva test is already being used as part of the on-campus testing strategy for students, faculty, and staff. This test, developed by U of I professors Paul Hergenrother, Martin Burke,  and Tim Fan, promises results within hours and will be used in conjunction with a contact tracing app. Read more about the on-campus testing strategy here.

“Testing is extremely important in controlling the spread of COVID-19, which is why we have put a great deal of funding into new strategies and technologies,” said Dr. T. Kesh Kesavadas, Director of the Health Care Engineering Systems Center and Engineer-in-Chief of the Jump ARCHES endowment. “Dean Bashir’s proposal is one of four innovative, point-of-care testing technologies that have been funded by Jump ARCHES this year.”

In June 2020, Jump ARCHES funded nearly $800,000 in innovative proposals seeking solutions to COVID-19 in the realm of testing, treatment, and predicting its spread. These solutions from our world-class faculty will prove extremely useful in the fight against COVID-19 both on our campus and around the globe. View all the funded projects here.

The Jump ARCHES endowment is a partnership between The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Health Care Engineering Systems Center and OSF HealthCare that exists to fund collaboration between engineers and physicians from the University of Illinois, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, and OSF HealthCare.

Learn more about Jump ARCHES and the Health Care Engineering Systems Center at Illinois here.