Molecular diagnostics in the age of COVID: Designing a portable point-of-care device

LLNL Scientist(s)
Larry Dugan,
Michael Triplett
Erin McKay
Teacher's School
Tracy High School


Abstract: Molecular diagnostics are methods, techniques or instruments used to identify the presence of disease markers in a biological sample. These disease markers can include genomic sequences, either DNA or RNA, or proteins. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world of molecular diagnostic testing to the forefront of the news. Millions of tests are performed in thousands of labs every day around the world trying to determine if individuals are infected with the viral pathogen causing this disease. However, most individuals do not understand how the tests are performed, what the limitations of the tests are and how the results are interpreted. LLNL has a long history of developing systems for detecting pathogens that cause disease in humans. Our experience in the development of molecular diagnostic assays and easy-to-use, portable instrumentation provided a good basis for building a system to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This presentation will provide an overview of how viruses infect a host leading to disease, the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, our team’s previous work in molecular diagnostics and our current effort to develop a Point-of-Care device for use in a clinical setting.



Larry Dugan received a B. S. in Chemistry from SUNY Environmental Science & Forestry and a Ph. D. in Radiobiology from Colorado State University. He is a Biomedical Scientist and Principal Investigator on a project to develop a Point-of-Care and field-deployable nucleic acid detection system for identifying human pathogens along with methods to generate novel, synthetic, engineered microbial viruses. His research group is developing novel bacterial affinity reagents using cell wall binding domains from bacteriophage.


Michael Triplett received a B. S. in Biomedical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and is a Research Support Engineer. He has worked on various bioengineering projects across the Lab including projects focused on developing microfluidic systems for studying the effects of various physical and chemical stimuli on cell cultures. He has provided engineering support for various COVID related projects including the Novel Emergency Response Ventilator (NERVe) and the Reveal-CoV diagnostic system.


Erin McKay is a Biology teacher at Tracy High School in Tracy, CA. She received her B. S. in Biology with an emphasis in Plant Biology and her science teaching credential from the University of California, Davis. While attending UC Davis, she interned at AgraQuest. She began teaching at Tracy High School in 2002. She is a LLNL Faculty Scholar and an instructor in the Bioscience Teacher Research Academy and Biotechnology Summer Experience for high school students at LLNL.