Pitt Researchers Turning Marijuana Breathalyzer into Rapid COVID Test

The test can detect the presence of coronavirus in under five minutes.


Waiting for a COVID test result, or any test result, can be stressful if the wait is several days or more. A team of researchers at Pitt and UPMC are working to create a handheld device to detect COVID in less than five minutes. To compare, the fastest COVID test available takes between 15 to 30 minutes and has been cited as less effective than longer tests at detecting low viral loads.

In 2019, Dr. Alexander Star and Ervin Sejdic led a team at the University of Pittsburgh to develop a marijuana breathalyzer. Now a team of researchers including Star, Wenting Shao, Michael R. Shurin, Sarah E. Wheeler and Xiaoyun He is using similar technology to create a handheld device that will detect the coronavirus. 

Although the device is still in the beginning stages, their recent publication in the American Chemical Society journal reports promising data. To detect the virus, the team used a microchip with tiny carbon tubes, each 100,000 times smaller than a human hair, covered in SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. If the virus is present within a nasal sample, the antibodies react and create a change in electrical current on the fibers, showing results in less than five minutes. The materials they used are more widely available and cheaper than those used in current testing methods.

As states begin to ease restrictions, rapid COVID tests will be more important than ever to slow the spread. 

More information regarding COVID-19 testing in Alleghany County can be found here.

Categories: The 412