Across Boston University’s School of Engineering, researchers are pivoting their work to tackle the many engineering problems associated with the global coronavirus pandemic.
3. Speeding up test validation
Catherine Klapperich, director of the BU Precision Diagnostics Center and a professor of biomedical and materials science engineering, is spearheading a team to validate new types of SARS-CoV-2 tests. To contain the current COVID-19 pandemic, and prevent future relapses, an extreme ramp up of testing is needed across the United States. But there are currently roadblocks and shortages of supplies barring that from being possible. To increase testing capabilities, new tests, like Ünlü’s, must be evaluated and validated through FDA regulatory procedures. Those validations take time—so, Klapperich’s team is trying to speed up that process.
The Precision Diagnostics Center is taking on the task of preclinical lab validation of newly developed COVID-19 tests. First up, they’re working with one developed by Michael Springer’s systems biology group at Harvard Medical School… Continue reading.
Engineers have the technology to make it better
The US reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on January 21st. Eight weeks later, there still aren’t enough tests for the virus available for everyone who needs them. “It is a failing,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a House briefing last week. “The system is not really geared to what we need right now.”
People who are sick or have been in contact with sick people are struggling to get tested. Until last week, the number of tests that could be run per day in the United States was limited to around 7,000. Labs are struggling to get the supplies they need to meet the demand.
“If the health system is working well, those tests should be good and help us manage this epidemic,” says Catherine Klapperich, director of the Laboratory for Diagnostics and Global Healthcare Technologies at Boston University. “It’s frustrating that the testing we thought we could rely on didn’t roll out the way we expected it to… Continue reading.
Catherine Klapperich’s lab creates point-of-care diagnostics—tools, such as a pregnancy test stick, that doctors and regular people can use to immediately test for conditions like high cholesterol or diagnose illnesses like strep throat.
One critical need in the developing world is a rapid test for HIV viral load—the amount of HIV in a patient’s blood. The number helps doctors monitor the disease, decide when to start treatment, and determine if HIV medications are working.
Boston University writer Barbara Moran recently spoke to Klapperich, associate professor in the College of Engineering’s biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering departments and the division of materials science and engineering, about her work.
Catherine Klapperich moves fast, talks fast, and has at least 15 different ideas rolling through her head at the same time. How, for instance, can she keep her postdocs on track, guide 134 undergrads through their senior project, and meanwhile invent new technology that may change medicine as we know it? She arrived a few minutes late for an interview, preoccupied with a more immediate concern: she had accidentally spilled water on her iPhone. She ran down to her lab to stick it into the vacuum oven, hoping that would dry it out. Then she ran back to her office and sat down to talk.
Klapperich holds three associate professorships at BU, in the College of Engineering biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering departments and in the Division of Materials Science and Engineering. She also directs the Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care. Her lab creates point-of-care diagnostics—tools, like a pregnancy test stick, that doctors and consumers can use to immediately test such conditions as high cholesterol or diagnose illnesses like strep throat. One critical need in the developing world is a rapid test for HIV viral load—the amount of HIV in a patient’s blood. The number helps doctors monitor the disease, decide when to start treatment, and determine if HIV medications are working.
While the availability of antiretroviral therapy has become more widespread for HIV- positive patients in resource-limited countries, few of these patients are monitored using viral load testing to determine how their treatment is progressing. Monitoring involves periodic measurements based on analyzing RNA extracted from blood samples, a procedure that requires the kind of infrastructure that only a well-equipped, central lab can provide. But getting blood samples to the lab from remote locations can be quite expensive, as they must be kept in cold storage for the entire journey.
Now Associate Professor Catherine Klapperich (BME, MSE) and collaborators in her lab and the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Boston University have demonstrated a portable, power-free system for extracting RNA from whole blood samples and storing them on detachable cartridges for up to one week below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Described in Analytical Methods and Chemistry World, the 2.5-pound device costs only about $300 to manufacture, and chemical reagents used to run the device are relatively cheap.
“By empowering healthcare workers to preserve samples without requiring refrigeration, our technology could enable more HIV-positive patients to receive ongoing monitoring,” said Klapperich.
Imagine a world where a simple mouth swab could predict lung cancer, a blood test could warn of a recurrence of melanoma, and a rectal scan could tell if you would benefit from a colonoscopy.
That world is the vision of the Center for Future Technologies in Cancer Care (FTCC), founded here in July with help from a five-year, $9 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the National Institutes of Health. The center will foster collaboration among doctors, engineers, and public health and business professionals at BU and elsewhere who hope to develop technology to diagnose, screen, and treat a variety of cancers faster, cheaper, and better than is done now.
BU is one of three recipients, with Harvard and Johns Hopkins University, of a U54 award, given by NIBIB’s Point-of-Care Technologies Research Network (POCTRN).
Catherine Klapperich, a College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering and of mechanical engineering and the FTCC director, says this isn’t the first time that BU engineers and clinicians have collaborated to tackle major health problems. The FTCC effort is unique, however, in its focus on cancer care. The new center will draw expertise from programs like the W. H. Coulter Translational Partnership Program and the Boston University/Fraunhofer Alliance for Medical Devices, Instrumentation and Diagnostics and will try to develop and commercialize promising prototypes.
Tracking influenza outbreaks quickly and cheaply could get a whole lot easier thanks to a number of experimental devices that can accurately detect viral strains in an hour or so. Using microfluidic techniques, these ‘flu chips’ could lead to better disease surveillance and treatment
“We want to see better tests in the outpatient setting so physicians can get the best information available,” says CDC epidemiologist Dan Jernigan. “Within the last year we a have seen a number of these tests being developed.”
In March, Catherine Klapperich and her colleagues at Boston University described a miniaturized device embedded with tiny tubes that could extract flu RNA from a sample and amplify it using reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR) with 96% sensitivity. To her knowledge, no other assay previously used one chip for both tasks using a cohort of human samples.