The Australian-developed sensor set to scout out COVID in the workplace

Friday, 16 July, 2021

The Australian-developed sensor set to scout out COVID in the workplace

A biosensor that can rapidly and accurately detect SARS-CoV-2 is currently being developed in Australia thanks to a collaboration between RMIT University, Melbourne-based biomedical start-up Soterius, MIP Diagnostics, the Burnet Institute, D+I and Vestech.

The Soterius Scout can deliver results within a minute to provide the all clear for someone to enter their work environment or alert them if they need to undertake a COVID-19 test and self-isolate.

The sensor harnesses nanotechnology-enabled biosensors developed by RMIT researchers at its leading-edge Micro Nano Research Facility. The biosensor technology is covered in a patent application filed by RMIT, with the integrated system the subject of a patent application subsequently filed by Soterius.

Prototype tests conducted at RMIT, in partnership with Burnet Institute, reveal that the sensor detects SARS-CoV-2 spike protein fragments with impressive accuracy and no false positives. The technology can detect COVID-19 even if someone is asymptomatic.

Soterius is currently further developing the prototype, with commercial release anticipated in early 2022.

The technology will be manufactured in Australia and will initially be delivered to hospitals, with future applications in other essential worker and high-traffic settings including aged care, quarantine hotels, airports and schools. It is hoped that the sensor will help transform day-to-day management of the pandemic, protecting frontline workers and the wider community.

Concept image of the Soterius Scout biosensor, fixed to an office wall to detect minute fragments of SARS-CoV-2. Image credit: Soterius.

Soterius co-founder Dr Alasdair Wood said emerging environmental viral sensors were bulky, energy intensive and can detect only one type of virus.

“Our biosensor is so small it can fit on a personal fob card and it’s easy to use — you just need to swipe your card over a reader at checkpoints,” Dr Wood said.

“Importantly, one sensor can detect up to eight viral strains and our technology can be easily adapted to detect new variants or novel viruses as they emerge.

“We hope the Soterius Scout biosensor could be a vital tool for managing COVID-19, providing accurate early detection to prevent outbreaks and avoid the need for future lockdowns.”

Trials show the sensor has potential to become a top-performing diagnostic tool for respiratory illnesses and it is now being scaled to detect other diseases such as influenza and MERS.

RMIT project leader Professor Sharath Sriram said the collaboration would accelerate the translation of RMIT research into vital new technologies.

“COVID-19 is not going away any time soon and we need smart solutions to help us detect the virus and contain outbreaks,” Professor Sriram said.

“It is exciting to see our platform sensor technology at the core of this smart new solution for the management of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in workplaces, to help protect our frontline workers and the wider community.”

How does it work?

The Soterius Scout biosensor can be worn as a fob or attached as a fixture within a workspace. The system detects virus particles that land on the sensor and, in less than one minute, can communicate the result to a smartphone or to a reader that users swipe as they enter or exit areas.

If SARS-CoV-2 is detected, Scout directs the user for testing and quarantine. Data can also be transmitted to the cloud to enable remote monitoring of hot spots and support the containment of local outbreaks.

The system uses flexible microelectronics and a synthetic nanotechnology that binds to targeted viruses, enabling specific detection and preventing false positives. Each device can be programmed to detect up to eight different viral strains using a sensor array, and can be easily adapted as part of the manufacturing process to detect new strains as they emerge.

Top image caption: The Soterius Scout sensor can detect COVID-19 even if someone is asymptomatic, to provide the all clear for someone to enter their work environment. Image credit: Soterius.

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