Scientists have appealed to industry to help fast produce a molecular test and smartphone app that can tell people in half an hour if they have Covid-19.
It would let people self-isolating test themselves and health care workers test patients and themselves to slow the pandemic’s spread and ease its NHS burden.
Developed by researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University and University of Surrey, the kit links to a smartphone app to detect the virus.
The science behind the device has been tested in the Philippines to check chickens for viral infections. The team is adapting it to detect Covid-19 in humans and urgently needs backers to get it mass produced.
“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 University London’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 is easy to use. Developed along with Lancaster University and The University of Surrey, it 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 to go to a laboratory and the same device can test six people at once.
The team is also 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.
It would cost about £100 to mass-produce and about £25 to run samples.
“Normally, anything like this would have to go through clinical trials,” said Professor Balachandran. “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 the University of Surrey, said: “We are delighted to be involved in the development of rapid diagnostic tools for Covid-19. 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."
“The team strongly believes that with our combined expertise, we will be able to make this device and its associated system available for adoption within a few weeks and take a step closer to beating Covid-19,” said Molecular Virologist Dr Muhammad Munir at Lancaster University.