HOMETOWN HERO: Student helps invent rapid COVID-19 test

Courtesy photoDarlin Lantigua, left, of Lawrence, works with professor Gulden Camci-Unal in a lab at UMass Lowell. They are developing a home COVID-19 test that can return results in five minutes.

LAWRENCE — As international corporations race to find a vaccine for the deadly COVID-19 virus, one local resident is doing his part in the fight against the disease — helping to invent a simple, fast and reliable test people can use at home to determine if they are infected.

Darlin Lantigua, 29, a resident of South Lawrence, is a doctoral candidate at UMass-Lowell, where he is working in the infectious disease lab on a test that uses bodily fluids to detect the presence of COVID-19. 

"It's like a pregnancy test," said Lantigua, who works closely with Gulden Camci-Unal, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the university. "One of the goals is that it can be used at home, or by clinicians and first responders."

Currently most tests are done using a nasal swab. Results can sometimes take a week or more.

The test being developed is capable of detecting COVID-19 in as little as five minutes, compared to existing methods of diagnosis, which can take hours or days to deliver results and must be performed and evaluated by a health care professional, she said.

Camci-Unal said Lantigua is a critical part of the team working on the project, which is funded by UMass-Lowell.

"Darlin has really worked hard in the laboratory," she said. "He's a really, really good student. We have another student working on it, but Darlin is the main point of contact. He is the major graduate student taking the lead."

She said the research and the work is going "really well," adding that the team has developed a prototype that is now ready to be used to test actual patients in hospitals and other facilities.

For full, commercial use, she said, the product needs FDA approval, but because it's not an internal test the kind of approval needed is not as rigorous or as time-consuming. She said she also needs to "obtain external funding, and we need to find suitable industry partners."

She added that "in a matter of a few months, the test can be ready. That's pretty quick."

Lantigua said his family is proud of the work he's involved in.

"Our family ideal is to help others," he said. "We are trying to come up with novel ideas to help society."

Lantigua is pursuing his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering and biotechnology. He already has master’s and bachelor’s degrees from UMass Lowell.



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