by Deirdre Kelly
Locating viruses before they become widespread diseases has become imperative in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting researchers like York University mechanical engineering professor Pouya Rezai to take urgent action in finding a solution to a universal problem. At his lab in the Lassonde School of Engineering, multiple graduate and undergraduate students have collaborated and developed a novel environmental biosensor capable of screening water and tactile surfaces for the presence of pathogens using a single microfluidic device. “It’s not a virus spread-prevention tool,” Rezai says, “but it is a step in the right direction.”
With the aim of improving decontamination measures and minimizing the economic losses of viral outbreaks, Rezai created the prototype in collaboration with York civil engineering professor Satinder Kaur Brar and Sixth Wave Inc., a nanotechnology company focused on the detection of targeted substances at the molecular level.
Sixth Wave’s trademarked Accelerated Molecular Imprinted Polymers (AMIPs) technology, together with advancements introduced into MIPs by Rezai’s group, form a key component of the device, on which a thin coating of the highly specialized polymer is layered on microparticles and microwires to bind to pathogens and trigger fluorometric or electrical responses.
A two-year grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, plus additional support from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, will be used to bring the device to market in the near future. It’s an important next step, Rezai says. “New knowledge about molecularly imprinted polymers, their affinity to viruses and their integration into microfluidic devices will help us develop rapid environmental monitoring technologies for safeguarding the public and containing future outbreaks.” ■