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Sensor in Works Detecting Covid-19 Airborne Virus

Graphene illustration


3 Mar. 2021. A company developing graphene bio-computer chips is applying its technology to sensors that quickly detect SARS-CoV-2 viruses in indoor air. Cardea Bio Inc. in San Diego is developing the sensor for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, as a sub-contractor to Georgia Tech Research Institute.

Cardea Bio designs transistor devices that detect live biological signals and convert the signals to electronic data streams. The company says its technology is built as graphene semiconductors that can be tuned to detect biological signals and support semiconductor circuits programmed to interpret the signals and transmit data. Starting with these basic devices, Cardea Bio says it designs applications that combine molecular biology with advanced electronics, software, and artificial intelligence.

Graphene is a material with many desirable qualities for a range of industries. The material is very light, strong, chemically stable, and only one atom in thickness, arrayed in a hexagonal pattern. Graphene can conduct both heat and electricity, with many applications in electronics, energy, and health care. For its bioactive sensors, Cardea Bio says graphene offers a signal resolution high enough to listen into live molecular signals, and can replace optical and static measurements with interactive live-streams from multiple genomic and protein chemical sources.

Sensitivity, specificity, and speed

The company is designing sensors for Darpa’s SenSARS program to detect the SARS-CoV-2 viruses responsible for Covid-19 infections in the environment to alert public health authorities to the virus’s presence. That program aims to develop systems with sufficient sensitivity, specificity, and speed to detect SARS-CoV-2 in an indoor environment, such as class or conference room, within 15 minutes. In addition, the sensor needs to distinguish SARS-CoV-2 from other common indoor contaminants such as dust and other viruses like influenza.

Cardea Bio’s technology is based on research by Kiana Aran, professor of biomedical engineering at Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, California. Aran’s lab studies bio-microelectromechanical systems for research and clinical use, including graphene-based devices. Among the lab’s work is a transistor built on graphene that applies the gene-editing technique Crispr to detect genomic sequences of target materials.

Aran is also Cardea Bio’s chief scientist. In a company statement released through BusinessWire, Aran says the project offers an opportunity “to develop a real-time pathogen identification technology that can be applied across many sectors. Having already demonstrated scalability and the capability of our platform for direct pathogen detection, we are ready to begin work on the SenSARS program.”

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