Scientists call on industry to roll-out rapid Covid-19 test

A molecular test and smartphone app that can tell people in 30 minutes if they have Covid-19 could be made available more quickly with help from industry.

rapid test for Covid-19
Representative and comparative size of the proposed diagnostic device (Image: Brunel University London)

The call has been made by researchers at Brunel University London and the Universities of Lancaster and Surrey. Once available, their device would let people self-isolating test themselves and health care workers test patients and themselves to slow the pandemic’s spread.

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According to Brunel, the rapid test for Covid-19 device has been trialled in the Philippines to check chickens for viral infections and the team is adapting it to detect Covid-19 in humans.

“Now we know multiple genomes of Covid-19, we can develop the molecular test in a week and have it up and running on the device in three or four,” said Brunel’s Professor Wamadeva Balachandran. “We are confident it will respond well and rapidly need industrial partners to come on board. It will have a huge impact on the population at large.”

The battery-operated hand-held smart phone linked device works by taking nasal or throat swabs, which are put into the device. Then in 30 to 45 minutes, it can tell if someone has Covid-19. The samples don’t need tests in a laboratory and the same device can test six people simultaneously.

The team is also said to be working on adding a telemedicine functionality to the mobile app which can control the device, track the users movement with permission and contact anyone who has had a close interaction with the person diagnosed to suggest the next steps to do to reduce the Covid-19 infection and spread to others. 

We could deliver a point-of-care test kit to support mass-scale testing within the NHS 

It would cost about £100 to mass-produce and about £25 to run samples. 

Rapid test for Covid-19

“Normally, anything like this would have to go through clinical trials,” Professor Balachandran said in a statement. “But this is not a normal situation. According to the Imperial College model, this might last for 18 months. And cases will rise over the next few months. Everyone is crying out for these tests, and many will take a long time. We haven’t got a long time, so anything like this is going to help. Speed is essential. With local hospitals’ help we aim to do a limited amount of tests with available positive and negative samples.” 

The idea is to try and make it cheaper than other tests so it can be used worldwide at home, in GP surgeries, hospitals and workplaces. Once infection is identified the intelligent system will track down all people who had close contact with the newly identified patient in the last 14 days, alert them about the threat of having Covid-19 and advise them what to do via the app.

Professor Roberto La Ragione, Deputy Head of the School of Veterinary Medicine at Surrey University, said: “With a rapid response from manufacturers, we could deliver a point-of-care test kit to support mass-scale testing within the NHS and globally.” 

Manufacturers can contact Prof Balachandran at: wamadeva.balachandran@brunel.ac.uk