Get tested in seconds

Get tested in seconds

Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) have helped to develop a Covid-19 testing device that can detect coronavirus infection in as little as 30 seconds. The device – developed alongside scientists at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan – produces results as sensitive and accurate as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the gold standard of testing.

The device could transform public health officials’ ability to quickly detect and respond to the coronavirus or other future pandemics, according to the researchers.

UF has entered into a licensing agreement with New Jersey-based Houndstoothe Analytics, with a view to ultimately manufacture and sell the device, not just to medical professionals, but also to consumers.

Like PCR tests, the device is 90% accurate, with the same sensitivity, according to a recent peer-reviewed study published by the UF group.

“There is nothing available like it,” says Professor Josephine Esquivel-Upshaw, a member of the research team that developed the device. “It’s true point of care. It’s access to care. We think it will revolutionise diagnostics.”

The device is not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. First, researchers say, they have to ensure that test results are not thrown off by cross-contamination with other pathogens that might be found in the mouth and saliva. These include other coronaviruses, staph infections, flu, pneumonia, and 20 other viruses. This work is ongoing.

The hand-held apparatus is powered by a 9-volt battery and uses an inexpensive test strip, similar to those used in blood glucose meters, with coronavirus antibodies attached to a gold-plated film at its tip. The strip is placed on the tongue to collect a tiny saliva sample.

The strip is then inserted into a reader connected to the device’s circuit board. If someone is infected, the coronavirus in the saliva binds with the antibodies and begins a dance of sorts, as they are prodded by two electrical pulses processed by a special transistor. A higher concentration of coronavirus changes the electrical conductance of the sample. This, in turn, alters the voltage of the electrical pulses.

The voltage signal is amplified a million times and converted to a numerical value – in a sense, the sample’s electrochemical fingerprint. That value will indicate a positive or negative result, while the lower the value, the higher the viral load. This ability to quantify viral and antibody load makes the device especially useful for clinical purposes.

The product can be constructed for less than US$50, Esquivel-Upshaw notes. In contrast, PCR testing equipment can cost thousands of dollars.

The research team is also studying the device’s ability to detect specific proteins that could be used to diagnose other illnesses, including cancer, heart attacks, and compromised immune health.

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