U of M researchers develop new portable coronavirus testing device

A research team at the University of Minnesota has developed a portable device that can register results in just 10 minutes.

The device, dubbed MagiCoil, pairs with a smartphone interface and can electronically send results to doctors, hospitals and government agencies. According to a news release from the university, this feature will allow for timelier health care decisions and make it easier to trace the spread of the virus.

The device costs $100 per unit, and the team aims to have the first devices ready in about a month and a half. The first round of devices will require professionals to manually prepare the testing samples. Over the course of four to six months, the researchers hope to have a fully automatic model ready.

Once the prototypes are up and running, the researchers can get a company to start mass producing the devices.

The team developing the device is led in tandem by Jian-Ping Wang, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, and Maxim Cheeran, a professor in the department of veterinary population medicine.

How the tests work

MagiCoil works using a technology called magnetic particle spectroscopy.

The test happens in a tube, which is first filled with a fluid containing magnetic nanoparticles coated with antibodies that recognize and stick to pieces of protein unique to an antigen, such as the virus that causes COVID-19.

Next, a sample of blood or respiratory material is added to the tube, along with chemicals that can break the virus into pieces. The tube is then loaded into the MagiCoil device, and a magnetic field is applied. If viral proteins are present in the sample, they’ll stick to the antibodies on the magnetic nanoparticles.

As the viral proteins stick to the antibodies, one end of the protein is left dangling and may attach to other proteins. After a while, the proteins, antibodies and nanoparticles start to clump together. The magnetic signal from the tube is weakened, which indicates a positive test.