Detailed in in Lab on a Chip, LoCKAmp is described by its creators as the ‘world’s fastest Covid test’.
LoCKAmp comprises a portable testing unit, and disposable cartridges that are used for each test. It harnesses RT-LAMP (reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification) to multiply specific sequences of RNA, quickly detecting the virus it is looking for. The team said LAMP detection is preferable to PCR testing as it has higher sensitivity, is faster and more specific.
Processing takes place at 65° instead of needing the three thermal cycles a PCR test requires. A further benefit of the design is that no pre-processing of the nasal swab samples is required.
Once a nasal swab sample is added to the device, the LoCKAmp pumps the liquid through transparent microfluidic channels layered onto the circuit board, above copper heaters 0.017mm thick. These heat the sample, releasing the RNA genetic material from the virus. This is then further heated and treated with RT-LAMP chemicals to encourage multiplication.
If the specific virus RNA is present in the amplified sample, it fluoresces under light and denotes a positive test.
With results shown within three minutes, the research team said that to their knowledge this makes LoCKAmp the fastest Covid-19 test reported to date.
In a statement, research lead Dr Despina Moschou, from Bath’s Centre for Bioengineering & Biomedical Technologies (CBio), said “We started researching and developing LoCKAmp during the second wave of Covid in the UK. We were confident we could create a portable, low-cost device that could carry out genetic identification of the virus, like a PCR test, within 10 minutes. We have done that, but found it can actually work within just three minutes.
“This is an amazing display of the possibilities of lab-on-a-chip technology, and given the low cost and adaptability of the technology to detect a range of conditions, a potentially highly valuable and unique tool for a range of healthcare settings.”
Made with off-the-shelf components and factory-manufactured printed circuit boards, the prototype device could be made on a mass scale quickly and at low cost. The research team said a commercial partner with the relevant design and manufacturing expertise could quickly redesign the LoCKAmp into a small, portable device.
The research team is engaging with academic and commercial partners, and would welcome further approaches, as it seeks to bring LoCKAmp into production.
The testing unit is projected to cost as little as £50 when it reaches mass production, while the test cartridges, currently made for £2.50, could cost less than 50 pence.
LoCKAmp has been developed by a team led at Bath University, plus colleagues from the James Watt School of Engineering at Glasgow University and the John Innes Centre.
The device was tested with COVID-19 patient swabs collected by Bath’s Royal United Hospital Trusts during the third wave of the pandemic.