UConn health researcher focuses on improved protection for N95 mask

UConn Health researcher and biomedical engineering faculty member Dr. Changchun Liu, together with a researcher from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, received an R21 award from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for his project “Durable Self-cleaning N95 Respirators with Fluorinated Graphene Oxide Coating.”

Liu’s lab is developing rapid and sensitive molecular diagnostic technology and devices for the detection of pathogens, with a focus on point-of-care diagnosis of infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV-2, HIV, ZIKV and various cancers. Of particular interest in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team that Liu leads has developed different molecular diagnostic technologies for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, such as the AIOD-CRISPR test and the digital test. Hot-start CRISPR. The team’s AIOD-CRISPR technology was recently licensed by UConn.

Dr Changchun Liu (file photo)

“In addition to these technologies, we have also developed simple and inexpensive point-of-care diagnostic devices and systems for the detection of SARS-CoV-2,” Liu said. “This NIH grant will allow us to support Dr. Hui Zhao, Principal Investigator (PI) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose team will spray superhydrophobic, a highly fluorinated graphene oxide, onto the outer surface of respirators. N95 to develop a superhydrophobic N95 mask.

These superhydrophobic coated N95 masks, Liu explains, not only prevent respiratory droplets from building up on the mask surface, but also reduce contamination from pathogens, especially the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“In this project, our UConn Health laboratory will develop a simple and sensitive quantitative detection approach for SARS-CoV-2 to assess the performance of the superhydrophobic mask N95 in terms of accumulation and prevention of the virus,” explains Liu. “We will use our newly developed hot-start digital CRISPR assay (WS-CRISPR) to quantify the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the surface of the N95 superhydrophobic mask, allowing simple, sensitive and reliable quantitative detection of the virus. “

As previously reported, researchers from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a shared department in schools of dentistry, medicine, and engineering, have started to develop a new, low-cost, CRISPR-based diagnostic platform to detect disease. infectious diseases, including HIV and the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

Led by Liu, the “All-In-One-Dual CRISPR-Cas12a” (AIOD-CRISPR) method enables simple, rapid, highly sensitive visual detection of SARS-CoV-2, intended for use at home or in small clinics. . In September 2020, Liu and his research team validated the platform’s clinical feasibility using COVID-19 clinical swab samples.

According to Liu, UConn has applied for a provisional patent on this CRISPR hot-start digital technology. UConn is a two year N95 related NIH award subcontractor; the total price is $ 346,760.

“Masks play an important role in preventing the spread and infection of COVID-19,” says Dr. Ki H. Chon, John and Donna Krenicki Professor and Head of Biomedical Engineering at UConn . “This work is vitally important and timely. If this research goes as hoped, we may all be able to wear Changchun’s respirator to protect ourselves from COVID-19. . . How cool would that be? “

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