Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) developed a low-cost sensor that can identify COVID-19 antibodies in approximately 10 seconds. The sensor is based on a special structure of tiny gold electrodes that are 3D printed using Optomec’s aerosol-jet process. The technology would allow clinicians to instantly and accurately detect the COVID-19 antibodies due to the specific geometry and surface characteristics of the printed structure. The test identifies two antibodies of the virus and is capable of detection even at very low concentrations through an electrochemical reaction sensed in the 3D-printed structure within a simple handheld device that interfaces with a smartphone.  

The low-cost sensor, which is just entering trials with COVID-19 patients, could prove to be a key tool in understanding the path and concentration of the pandemic and could be a critical enabler in opening up certain parts of the economy. The 3D-printed sensor was developed by the team of Rahul Panat, associate professor of mechanical engineering at CMU, who researches additive-manufacturing techniques for producing biosensing devices and human-computer interfaces.

“My research team was working on 3D-printed high-performance sensors to detect dopamine, a chemical in the brain, when we realized that we could adapt our work for COVID-19 testing,” Panat said. “The aerosol-jet process was critical to producing a sensor with high sensitivity and speed.”