November 10 2020
Biotechnology/Life Sciences/Pharmaceuticals,COVID-19,Manufacturing,Research & Development

The Research Connection – November, 2020: COVID-19 Edition

Featured university R&D projects:

  • 30-Minute COVID-19 Antibody Test
  • Unique System for Using UVC Light to Sterilize Masks in Bulk
  • Diagnostic Saliva COVID-19 Test
  • Rapid Corona Virus Testing
  • Engineers Developing New Ways to Optimize N95 Masks
  • COVID-19 Pooled Surveillance Testing Program
  • Streamlined Temperature Screening System
  • UB facilities used to develop COVID-19 testing products
  • Turning a coronavirus protein into a nanoparticle could be key for COVID-19 vaccine
  • SUNY startup aims to accelerate COVID-19 drug screening outbreaks
  • Pinpointing deadly COVID-19 outbreaks

This edition’s contributors:

  • SUNY Research Foundation: SUNY Polytechnic Institute, SUNY Upstate Medical University, University at Albany, University at Buffalo, SUNY Stonybrook
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

30-Minute COVID-19 Antibody Test

With support from a SUNY COVID-19 seed funding program, SUNY Polytechnic Institute Professor Nate Cady, in partnership with the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center and Ciencia, is developing a 30-minute COVID-19 antibody test. It will quickly reveal who has been infected previously compared to those who have not.

Significantly, the test can use dried blood spots. It requires only a small droplet of blood, which can be obtained via a standard finger prick. Because dried blood spots remain stable, they can also be transported by mail without any refrigeration to a testing facility. Details related to the research were published on medRxiv and titled, “Multiplexed Detection and Quantification of Human Antibody Response to COVID-19 Infection Using a Plasmon Enhanced Biosensor Platform.” Collaborate with the research team.

More info 

Potential applications: This test will help identify those who have and have not been infected by COVID-19, providing more information to better understand the virus, and enabling off-site testing. 

Contact: Nate Cady, SUNY Polytechnic Institute Empire Innovation Professor of Nanobioscience,

Unique System for Using UVC Light to Sterilize Masks in Bulk

The shortage of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a persistent problem for medical and other front-line workers as they battle the COVID-19 pandemic at close range day after day. A team of researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a solution: a machine that uses ultraviolet (UVC) light to sterilize thousands of protective masks each day, rendering them safe for reuse.

More info

Potential Applications: Mask disinfecting, disease prevention

Contact: Torie Wells,

Diagnostic Saliva COVID-19 Test

A saliva-based diagnostic test developed by researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University and Quadrant Biosciences to detect whether an individual is infected with COVID-19 has been granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.The Clarifi COVID-19 test is a non-invasive and easy-to-administer saliva swab that determines the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA. The Clarifi COVID-19 Test Kit contains the saliva collection swab and the reagents needed to run the analysis. The unique nature of the collection kits is that it inactivates antiviruses that might be present in the saliva, while stabilizing it for diagnostic testing at a remote facility. Learn more about the COVID-19 test kits.

More info

Potential applications: A simple, quick and effective solution to conduct more COVID-19 testing, faster.

Contact: Quadrant Biosciences

Rapid Corona Virus Testing

Ken Halvorsen, a senior research scientist at the RNA Institute at the University at Albany, is leading new research that could soon deliver coronavirus test results much faster and at much lower cost. His lab is working to address the need for additional and alternative testing by re-engineering its DNA nanoswitch technology into a coronavirus test. DNA nanoswitches can provide a faster, less expensive method for detecting biomolecules, including viral RNA. Different from other RNA tests, it does not require enzymes, which are a key driver of the cost, complexity and supply chain issues associated with current testing.

Halvorsen’s research team, working in collaboration with the Wong Lab at the Wyss Institute, has dual goals of delivering COVID-19 test results within one hour and without the use of a laboratory. Collaborate with the research team.

More info

Potential applications: An assay that delivers COVID-19 test results faster and without the use of a laboratory.

Contact: Dr. Ken Halverson, Senior Research Scientist, The RNA Institute,

Engineers Developing New Ways to Optimize N95 Masks

With the support of a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant, two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers are examining ways to equip N95 respirator masks with antiviral properties and the ability to withstand sterilization. These improvements would better protect health care workers and enable the current supply of masks to last longer.

More info

Potential Applications: Mask sterilization, disease prevention

Contact: Torie Wells,

COVID-19 Pooled Surveillance Testing Program

Developed by the RNA Institute and the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, a new pooled surveillance testing program provides a simple and non-invasive way to test the presence of the virus using a saliva sample. The testing allows many more people to be monitored without the expense of individual diagnostic testing for every person. It was specifically designed to detect the virus in asymptomatic individuals who can infect others unknowingly. Collaborate with the research team.

More info

Potential applications: This pooled surveillance can drive down testing costs for schools and universities, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and other employers bringing back workers. 

Contact: Andrew Berglund, Director of RNA Institute,

Streamlined Temperature Screening System

Buffalo Automation, a startup company with University at Buffalo roots, is adapting its thermal imaging technology to streamline the process of taking body temperatures in the workplace. The company is running a pilot program, which is called the Bifrost project, at a facility operated by UB. Bifrost is a simple Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that takes specific human features from thermal images and measures the skin temperatures from areas most likely to indicate a fever. Currently, the equipment is gathering data, validating the ability to do long-range facial detection and feature extraction using thermal images. In the next phase it will begin to compare and validate temperature differences between facial features using an instrument called a microbolometer, which detects infrared radiation (IR).

The goal of the pilot project is to prove that Bifrost is a better option than using a handheld IR measuring device by comparing rates of false positives and negatives. Partner with the research team.

More info

Potential applications: Help organizations implement return-to-work plans by taking the temperatures of multiple people simultaneously.

Contact: Thiru Vikram, CEO Buffalo Automation,

UB facilities used to develop COVID-19 testing products

Life sciences company ZeptoMetrix leveraged resources at the University at Buffalo to enhance its coronavirus product line. Through a partnership with UB’s Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics (BIG), ZeptoMetrix has access to a high-tech instrumentation system in UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences known as a digital droplet PCR platform (ddPCR) with an automated droplet generator. This equipment can measure the number of viruses or bacteria that are present in the company’s controls. The ability to quantitate virus concentration is an essential step in producing and testing these control products, which are essential to the infectious disease testing community.

ZeptoMetrix used the ddPCR to develop controls for COVID-19 testing that use whole, intact, inactivated viruses. ZeptoMetrix has made it a priority to ensure product availability to diagnostic companies developing new and improved tests as well as those laboratories in hospitals and clinics seeking to ensure the reliability of the tests they perform. Partner with UB’s Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics.

More info 

Potential applications: New molecular diagnostic tests, companion diagnostics, therapeutic agents and precision medicine techniques to tailor treatment options and improve health outcomes.

Contact: Buffalo Institute for Genomics and Data Analytics

Turning a coronavirus protein into a nanoparticle could be key for COVID-19 vaccine

Since COVID-19 began spreading in early 2020, biomedical researchers have been in active pursuit of an effective vaccine. According to University at Buffalo researcher Jonathan F. Lovell, one answer might lie in designing vaccines that partially mimic the structure of the virus. One of the proteins on the virus – located on the characteristic COVID spike – has a component called the receptor-binding domain, or RBD. Antibodies against this part of the virus have the potential to neutralize the virus.

The team hypothesized that by converting the RBD into a nanoparticle (similar in size to the virus itself) instead of letting it remain in its natural form as a small protein, it would generate higher levels of neutralizing antibodies and its ability to generate an immune response would increase. The research, titled “SARS-CoV-2 RBD Neutralizing Antibody Induction is Enhanced by Particulate Vaccination,” was published online in Advanced Materials on October 28. Contact us to find out more. 

More info

Potential applications: Increase the effectiveness of vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

Contact: Jonathan F. Lovell, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering,

SUNY startup aims to accelerate COVID-19 drug screening outbreaks

As COVID-19 infection rates and death tolls continue to rise, researchers and scientists around the world are urgently racing to clear candidate drug therapies for COVID-19. UB spinoff Cytocybernetics is aiding in this effort by developing a high-tech tool called CyberQ to rapidly assess whether or not investigational COVID-19 drugs have arrhythmogenic properties that can result in sudden cardiac death — a critical step in the FDA’s drug approval process.

For this work, the company has been awarded $44,990 in supplemental COVID-19 funds through the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. The funds are an amendment to an initial Phase I STTR award received by the company in June 2019, bringing Cytocybernetics’ total award sum for the project to $269,990.? Contact us to find out more. 

More info

Potential applications: Test investigational COVID-19 drug therapies for safety.


Pinpointing deadly COVID-19 outbreaks

A new machine learning tool developed by researchers at Akai Kaeru, a startup affiliated with Stony Brook University, can identify areas most at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers use an automatic pattern mining engine and software to analyze a data set with approximately 500 attributes, which cover details related to demographics, economics, race and ethnicity, and infrastructure in all U.S. counties. After analyzing and assessing the data within counties they created nearly 300 sets of counties at a high risk for COVID-19 and related death rates.

The software and method used to analyze the data and identify high-risk counties can help inform officials based on important correlations related to COVID-19 death rates and help direct allocation of resources, such as testing kits and stations. The method and findings may also help to target community-based information campaigns about COVID-19 and measures to contain the pandemic and potentially reduce cases. Partner with the research team.

More info

Potential applications: Help governments and other organizations implement public health measures to prepare for and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Contact: Klaus Mueller, Professor of Computer Science, CEO of Akai Kaeru, LLC,

About The Research Connection: The Research Connection is a quarterly feature in the Center for Economic Growth’s monthly, online newsletter, The CEG Indicator. This special feature highlights R&D being conducted by researchers at Capital Region colleges and universities and others throughout the SUNY system. The Research Connection spotlights academic R&D in CEG’s focus technology sectors: Nanotechnology and Semiconductors, Cleantech/Energy, Biotechnology, Advanced Materials, Population Health Technology and Information Technology.

Each edition of The Research Connection will highlight several research projects in a specific technology sector. The Research Connection will keep CEG investors (2,500+) and CEG Indicator subscribers (9,000+) informed on the cutting-edge R&D that is being conducted by SUNY and other academic researchers that could potentially transform their industries. It will also encourage collaboration, patent, licensing and other opportunities.

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