Auburn-developed microscope technology finds use on COVID-19 battlefront

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An Auburn University-developed light microscope technology that has been on the market since the early 2000s has found new potential as a research tool on the COVID-19 battlefront.

CytoViva Inc., a subsidiary company of the Auburn Research Park-based firm Aetos Technologies Inc.—and the registered name for the patented microscope technology developed by Professor Vitaly Vodyanoy of Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine—has partnered with Joanna Sztuba-Solinska, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, to aid in her research efforts.

A molecular virologist, Sztuba-Solinska has focused her research on the herpesviruses, but with the current COVID-19 pandemic, she has begun to expand her research focus to studying SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“This is a dramatically different type of virus,” she said. “I study Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, which is a DNA virus that as most herpesviruses, coevolved with human population for very long time, thus, it is much less virulent.

“SARS CoV-2 is a newly emerged virus with probably the largest RNA genome, and the unique capacity of proofreading its mistakes—which you usually don’t see with RNA viruses. However, because it’s an RNA virus it has more so to speak evolutionary flexibility, meaning, it can undergo mutations, and go from animal reservoir to unfortunately human reservoir. Also, because it is a newly emerged virus, it has a much greater virulence, that is, the capacity to cause the disease or even death.”

While Sztuba-Solinska says she is optimistic that efforts underway to produce an effective COVID-19 vaccine will be successful, the process takes many months to develop, test and confirm the effectiveness and human safety of a new vaccine.

Meanwhile, her immediate research in the area of coronaviruses and COVID-19 is focused on working collaboratively with researchers in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering on polymers to be used in antimicrobial materials for protective face masks, and in determining if the differences in types of coronaviruses can be detected visually by observing changes in their spectra.

“This is where I will be able to use the CytoViva microscope and its high-resolution capabilities,” she said, adding that she should have a unit set up and in operation in her lab within two weeks.

Introduced in 2004, CytoViva technology has been installed in hundreds of research laboratories. This includes leading national research laboratories, academic institutes and private industrial labs across the Americas, Asia and Europe.

CytoViva had principally focused on the use of its technology in the engineered nanomaterials world associated with drug delivery. In 2008, CytoViva integrated its proprietary hyperspectral imaging technology with the patented microscope developed by Vodyanoy to provide quantitative data analysis.

“Interestingly, though, viruses are nanoparticles, too,” said Byron Cheatham, CytoViva vice president for marketing. “Given CytoViva’s capability to detect live viruses like coronavirus, we have reached out to the biomedical community. We firmly believe that this technology can be an effective and efficient tool on the front against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases research.”

Vodyanoy, who was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors in 2013, added that “hyperspectral imagery of a single cell” would allow identification of the coronavirus infection.

The CytoViva microscope has won several major national awards: R&D Magazine's top 100 most technologically significant products introduced in 2006 and 2007 and the Nano 50 Award by NASA Tech Briefs, which recognizes the most exceptional new products in the nanotechnology field.

(Written by Mitch Emmons)

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