UWM sensor could make detecting Ebola as easy as spitting

Junhong Chen in the Lab and innovtion Campus

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Georgia Institute of Technology have been awarded a grant to develop a sensor that can be used to immediately detect the Ebola virus with a simple “spit” test.

Junhong Chen, a UWM professor of mechanical and materials engineering, will use a sensor platform he created to detect water contamination to make the low-cost virus sensor.

The nearly $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) aims to arm public health responders with tools for rapid detection and containment of an Ebola outbreak.

Chen’s sensor will target seven specific proteins associated with Ebola infection that are present in human saliva. This work is on a fast track with a prototype ready for testing within 10 months.

Along with the sensor, the team will develop a modeling tool to help health care workers make on-the-spot decisions, including using resources efficiently and choosing strategies for disease containment.

The model being developed by Eva K. Lee, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, incorporates virus characteristics, on-the-ground resource and workflow operations, changing social behaviors, and disease spread into a single system framework.

Chen’s sensor blends two kinds of nano-structures, yielding a hybrid that is cost-effective, highly accurate and “tunable” to detect a range of targets. Two patents on the material are licensed to Chen’s startup company, NanoAffix Science LLC.

Chen’s grant comes less than three months after he was awarded a separate NSF grant to develop sensors that detect contaminants in drinking water using the same material. The water sensor work is being conducted in partnership with industries with the goal of commercializing the new technology.

“The world lags behind in using nanotechnology in medical applications,” Chen said. “This technology promises to save lives both in developing nations and at home.”

Find this article and more on UWM’s Front Page news site.

Written by Laura L. Otto, University Relations