In December of 2019, researchers identified a cluster of people sick with a never-before-seen coronavirus in Wuhan, China. By March, what was once a small outbreak had flamed into a global pandemic, prompting the World Health Organization to make emergency declarations, and for cities and countries across the world to issue stay-at-home orders to help limit the virus’s spread.
For many students at Duke University, the unprecedented circumstances meant completing course work, classes and research projects from home and communicating with colleagues, faculty and fellow students through a plethora of virtual platforms.
But for Cassio Fontes, a PhD student in the department of biomedical engineering, the emergency instead prompted a question from his advisor, Ashutosh Chilkoti: Could Fontes use the lab’s signature diagnostic platform to detect the novel coronavirus?
Fontes had spent the last six years in the Chilkoti lab working with the D4 assay, a portable diagnostic tool that can detect the markers of diseases as accurately as the most sensitive tests on the market, but at a much faster rate––shortening a wait time of hours or even days to just 30 minutes.