Developing a cheap, fast, easy-to-use COVID-19 saliva test

Ventnostics, a biomedical engineering company founded by Fulbright alum Randy Espinal (Dominican Republic, 2007-10), is developing a cheap, fast, easy-to use COVID-19 saliva test.

Testing prototype

Ventnostic’s goal is to develop a self-contained saliva test which would allow people to spit, push and get a result within 10 minutes. The test could be used to identify asymptomatic and previously exposed individuals.

The team is participating in XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing, a $5 million, 6-month competition to increase COVID-19 testing capabilities. They are also asking for immediate feedback to support product development.

Find out more about Ventnostics

We spoke to Randy Espinal about Ventnostics and their progress so far.

Could you explain how your new saliva test would work?

All users have to do is spit into a collection funnel, push a plunger to filter saliva, and get a result within 10 minutes

In order to safely reopen schools and businesses, we need more accessible testing. Our rapid screening test could identify and trace asymptomatic and previously exposed individuals by selectively detecting proteins in saliva. All users have to do is spit into a collection funnel, push a plunger to filter saliva, and get a result within 10 minutes. Unlike current COVID-19 rapid tests which come as a kit and require users to follow instructions in order to work properly, our self-contained device would require minimal to no instructions—similar to an over-the-counter pregnancy test.

We will also include a QR code that users can scan with their smartphones. The QR code will take them to a website where they can report their results to local health authorities. Users would not have to download an app to use this optional feature or disclose GPS location.

Ventnostics is a very new company, but could you talk a little about what you have achieved so far, and what the next steps are in developing this product?

Ventnostics's mission is to simplify and miniaturize complex medical diagnostic tests, so that millions of people around the world can have access to testing

Yes, we are an early stage startup, but we are building a solution to contribute as much as we can to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Ventnostics’ idea of a non-invasive, fast, easy-to-use, inexpensive saliva test was born in 2019. After moving back to my home country, the Dominican Republic, from the US, I wanted to work on research that would make the greatest impact in my country and other developing countries. Mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue are a significant problem in the Dominican Republic and other developing countries around the world. Ventnostics' mission is to simplify and miniaturize complex medical diagnostic tests, so that millions of people around the world can have access to testing. Last year, I pitched the idea of a saliva test for Dengue to the Chair of the Department of Exact and Natural Sciences, Dr. José Álvarez, at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), Santo Domingo, where I work as a Professor of Chemistry. He liked the idea and along with our Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Julio Tavera, we met with our former Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration and recently elected Vice President of the Dominican Republic Raquel Peña to pitch the idea to her. She loved the idea and approved funds that led to the creation of the bioengineering lab at PUCMM, where Ventnostics has been engineering its paper-based microfluidic platform. Because of the pandemic, Ventnostics has pivoted to developing a test for COVID-19.

Last June, I participated in the MIT Covid-19 Challenge: Latin America vs. COVID-19, where I pitched Ventnostics’ idea, and other participants formed a team around it. We used the prototype that I built last year for Dengue during the hackathon. Our team (team 013) was part of the Track A or ‘Identifying the COVID-19 Immune’. After the hackathon, two of the team members joined Ventnostics’ team. Dr. Debora Heller, visiting researcher at The Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Brazil and professor of dentistry at the Universidade Cruzeiro do Sul in Brazil, is currently working with saliva samples from COVID-19 patients to measure their antibodies (IgA, IgG, and IgM) and David Lu, a biomedical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University, is working on the assay platform of our test.

I am building the paper-based microfluidic platform of our test in the bioengineering lab at PUCMM in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In a couple of weeks, I will send a prototype of our test to Dr. Debora Heller for lab testing. She will be testing our device in her lab at The Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Brazil. After that, we will continue prototyping, testing, and collecting data.

How can those reading this piece find out more and support Ventnostic’s work?

They can visit our website or send an email to to learn more and support Ventnostic’s work.

Other news