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Photonic chip device could help safeguard against future pandemics

A photonic chip on a multicolored background.
Miller Lab
University of Rochester
Prototype of a disposable integrated photonic chip that helps detect viruses like COVID-19 and its variants.

Some area universities, businesses and other organizations are working on a technology that could eventually help safeguard people against future pandemics. The approach involves photonics and a portable chip device that researchers at the University of Rochester say could help detect viruses and infections in underserved populations.

Dr. Benjamin Miller, professor of Dermatology, said this technology uses an inexpensive, portable chip that could be used in doctors’ offices and rural or inner-city clinics by collecting a drop of blood or saliva.

Miller said this is a different type of test than the home test you might use to see if you have COVID-19.

“What we want to be able to do is detect immunity to the virus,” said Benjamin. “And so that includes things like, I know a lot of us may have been vaccinated a year or two ago, and we wonder, do we still have antibodies to COVID?”

Miller said that, “If you have that ability to monitor people’s immunity to COVID-19, I think that can be a really useful tool, because it lets you know that vaccines are working. It lets you know that you still have immunity to emerging variants of the virus, and so we want to be able to help with that.”

The U of R is also working with RIT, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, AIM Photonics and the Naval Research Laboratory. Syntec Optics in Rochester is participating as a subcontractor.

The goal is to complete this research in about two years, and then find a company who can commercialize it. The research is being funded by a $5 million federal grant.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.