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Rapid Biosensor for the Detection of SARS-CoV-2 S1 Antigen Is Awarded 2nd Prize of the 2021 IDea Incubator Competition

Rapid Biosensor for the Detection of SARS-CoV-2 S1 Antigen Is Awarded 2nd Prize of the 2021 IDea Incubator Competition content piece image
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A global distinction was achieved for the innovative cell bioelectric SARS-CoV-2 spike S1 protein biosensor, developed by researchers from the Agricultural University of Athens. Following the successful completion and publication of the results of the second clinical trial of the biosensor, the team behind the technology won second place in the finals of the prestigious IDea Incubator Competition, which took place online on Wednesday, September 29. It is the first time in the history of the highly competitive contest that a non-USA based team is among the winners.

Assays targeting antigenic moieties of the respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have been recognized as one of the most promising approaches to successfully identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus, especially during the first two weeks following infection and taking into consideration the fact that asymptomatic infection rates range globally between 18% to 42%. The interest in screening individuals for COVID-19 infection in point-of-care (POC) settings is concomitant with the wide vaccination against the virus.

In 2020, researchers at the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA), Greece, reported the development of a bioelectric recognition assay-based biosensor able to detect the SARS-CoV-2 S1 spike protein expressed on the surface of the virus in just three minutes, with high sensitivity and selectivity. The working principle was established by measuring the change of the electric potential of membrane-engineered mammalian cells bearing the human chimeric spike S1 antibody after attachment of the respective viral protein. The novel system has been validated by an independent research team on 110 positive and 136 negative SARS-CoV-2 samples tested by RT-PCR. A total sensitivity of 92.7% and a specificity of 97.8% was demonstrated. More recently, a second clinical trial was completed on patient-derived nasopharyngeal samples, with absolutely no sample pretreatment. The plug-and-apply novel biosensor was able to detect the virus in positive samples with a 92.8% success rate compared to RT-PCR. No false negative results were recorded.

Following these milestones, the AUA team, in collaboration with the Pediatric Hospital of the University of Athens, entered the finals of the IDea Incubator Competition, held under the auspices of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Foundation and Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS. This is a competition with a global impact on scientists and entrepreneurs, with the aim of promoting innovative technologies and applications to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases worldwide. The competition is held annually as part of IDWeek, which promotes excellence in education and research in public health and infections.

The Greek team competed, under very demanding conditions, and won second prize, standing out in the evaluation of the judges in terms of the prospects of global practical application.

The IDea Incubator Competition award is a step closer to raising global awareness about the potential of cell-based biosensors as mass-scale screening tools for SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging and potentially pandemic respiratory viruses.