As the healthcare community has rallied around a rapid response to COVID-19, engineers are designing solutions to stop the spread of the disease, reduce the frequency of transmission, and find new approaches to treating patients.
To help, Penn Engineering recently created the COVID-19 Engineering Faculty Research Fund, and a generous inaugural gift of $250,000 from Jeff Horing, ENG’86, W’86, PAR’19 and his wife Patricia, PAR’19, helped to get several projects off the ground.
“We asked how we could best support Penn Engineering’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jeff Horing. “It’s the perfect place to promote the kind of bold, innovative research that could help save lives and prevent future outbreaks.
Five promising projects are initially receiving support from this fund, led by some of the best and brightest Penn Engineering faculty. The projects include N95 masks with portable re-sterilization systems, saliva home tests, smart therapeutics to monitor and treat infection, quick and easy antibody tests, and engineering vesicles that stop the replication and spread of COVID-19.
Portable Re-Sterilization for N95 Masks
Mark Yim, the Asa Whitney Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is tackling the shortage of N95 masks head-on. As Director of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory, Yim is creating masks that are durable enough to be re-sterilized for multiple uses, along with a portable, battery-powered UV light-based sterilization system. With developing nations in dire need of N95 masks, Yim plans to prioritize sending his new technology to the countries that can benefit the most.
Accurate COVID-19 Virus Home Test
Am I safe to go to work today? Haim Bau, professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics, is determined to create an accurate COVID-19 home test that can answer that exact question. Bau’s test could be scaled-up to provide businesses and organizations with an effective employee containment strategy, as folks could give themselves frequent, at-home tests. The inexpensive, molecular test would go beyond a simple yes or no and provide two things in as little as 15 minutes: 1) the level of viral infection, and 2) asymptomatic carrier information. The project shows great promise—pilot data has proven success with other viruses, and an app is currently in development.
Smart Therapeutics to Monitor and Treat SARS-CoV-2
By producing proteins “on-demand”, Lukasz Bugaj, assistant professor of bioengineering, wants to create a tool that can effectively detect and treat COVID-19, and other disorders. Bugaj is working on sentinel testing technology that re-engineers the cells to produce a chemical warning once an infection is detected. Using saliva or urine, he is trying to direct cells to secrete protein once they have become infected with COVID-19.
Rapid, One-Step Antibody Test
Three years ago, Andrew Tsourkas, professor of bioengineering, invented a complementary antibody technology. Now, he’s working on an innovative antibody test that could detect if someone is infected with COVID-19 at home, with high specificity. In Tsourkas’ test, complicated equipment and hard-to-find chemicals are not required.
Stopping the Replication and Spread of SARS-CoV-2
Daniel Hammer, Alfred G. and Meta A. Ennis Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Daeyeon Lee, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, came up with an idea to treat already-infected COVID-19 patients—while creating their summer curriculum for Biotechnology, Immunology, Vaccines, and COVID-19. They plan to stop the replication and spread of the disease using re-engineered vesicles, a treatment method that has been used to block or inactivate infections over the past 20 years.
Support these projects and other bold ideas from Penn Engineering by donating to the COVID-19 Engineering Faculty Research Fund.