As soon as this fall, patients could be quickly and cheaply tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 with a device invented by University of Arizona optical scientists.
The portable pathogen detection system, developed by Botanisol Analytics, uses a laser with sensors that can instantly analyze the chemical makeup of a virus test sample.
Botanisol’s device, called a Raman vacuum ultraviolet spectrometer, is based on technology invented nearly a decade ago by UA professor Tom Milster of the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences, along with co-inventors Pramod Khulbe and Barry Gelernt.
Raman spectrometers, which identify substances by detecting the vibrational modes of molecules, are widely used in industrial and biomedical applications.
The spectrometer plugs into a standard wall outlet, requires minimal training to operate and it doesn’t need chemical reagents to create reactions for diagnostics — unlike like the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests commonly used to detect COVID-19.
“What’s really cool about Raman (spectrometry) is, it’s kind of a general signature for whatever is there,” said Milster, who serves as an adviser to Botanisol and continues to work on the basic science behind the spectrometer at his UA lab.
“PCR is extremely sensitive, but it’s very specific,” he said. “(Raman spectrometry) is a different philosophy on how to do the testing, it’s just a complementary technology.”
Botanisol Analytics, founded by UA alumnus David Talenfeld, licensed the patented spectrometry tech from the UA in 2018 and has been developing it for rapid chemical analysis with military and industrial partners.
With additional funding, the company plans to field coronavirus screeners this fall, said Talenfeld, Botanisol’s CEO and a serial medical entrepreneur.