Developing a Sweeter COVID-19 Test

Carolina researchers have designed a rapid sensing COVID-19 test using sugar to take advantage of the virus’s sweet tooth.

Ronit Freeman holds a coronavirus model

Carolina researchers have designed a rapid sensing COVID-19 test using sugar to take advantage of the virus’s sweet tooth.

Even those tracking each new discovery about the coronavirus and its variants may not be aware of the virus’s sugar cravings.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of California San Diego took advantage of the virus’s sweet tooth in the design of a sugar-coated COVID-19 test strip that’s been effective at detecting coronavirus.

This new test, named GlycoGrip, adapts natural biology to reliably capture the SARS-CoV-2 virus and allow for a simple and accurate detection of COVID-19 infection within minutes. Its low cost, portability and ease of manufacture could make it globally available, especially in rural or low-income areas that typically lack easy access to expensive PCR testing equipment.

The findings were published Dec. 15 in the journal ACS Central ScienceOpens in new window.

“We have turned the tables on the virus by using the same sugar coat it binds to infect cells – to capture it into our sensor,” said Ronit FreemanOpens in new window, co-corresponding author of the paper. Freeman is an associate professor of applied physical sciences and biomedical engineering in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The test is inspired by the natural biology of epithelial cells – those that are targeted and infiltrated by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These cells are coated with a dense matrix of sugars called the glycocalyx, and it’s this sugar net that the virus exploits to cause infection.

Freeman’s work was supported by the UNC Institute for Convergent Science with a $15,000 grant from the Louise F. Brady Family Fund for Excellence in Convergent Science, which helps Carolina faculty clear obstacles created by lack of time, space, or support.

Read the Complete Carolina Story… Opens in new window

College of Arts & Sciences Funding Priorities

Readers Also Viewed...

Potlapalli stands in front of the Old Well

Dreaming of Doctorates

Testing the waters of an MD-PhD program through interdepartmental collaboration

Hands using a touchscreen phone

Studying technology and teen mental health

UNC-Chapel Hill and the Winston Family Foundation launch national center to study effects of technology and social media on child brain development

Emmaus Holder stands with bike
Student Support

Actively Raising Awareness

Carolina sophomore bikes across the U.S.

Jason P. Mihalik, PhD, co-director, Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center; Terry Rhodes, PhD, dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Dr. James Kelly, executive director, Marcus Institute for Brain Health; Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, chancellor

Treating Traumatic Brain Injury in Veterans

A $12.5 million gift from the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will establish THRIVE, a new clinical outreach program to treat TBI in veterans.

Dain Ruiz smiling on campus.

Creating Therapeutics for Rare Diseases

A Carolina student’s passion to give others hope

Rahima Benhabbour holds up a medical device.

Where 3D Printing Meets Women’s Health

New medical devices benefit marginalized women around the globe.