- Researchers from the UK have developed a smartphone-connected coronavirus testing device that can be used at home for a fast diagnosis.
- The COVID-19 test kit would not have to be delivered to a laboratory and could help medical professionals expand the scope of coronavirus screening.
- The device would only cost around $120 and could process up to six swabs at the same time.
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Extensive testing for the novel coronavirus is what helped South Korea reduce the number of new cases, or flatten the curve, even though a few weeks ago it looked like the country would be the world’s next major COVID-19 hot zone after China. The opposite happened in almost every other country that registered a massive spike in cases in the past few days. Governments were caught off-guard by the coronavirus outbreak even though China gave the world almost two months to get ready. Extensive testing campaigns would give each country the real picture of the local coronavirus epidemic. It would also help different regions come up with measures to limit the spread of the disease and provide care before symptoms worsen.
Testing isn’t available to all patients in most countries, and that’s because there aren’t enough kits. Also, some tests take too much time to process, so there’s definitely a need for better, faster methods. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen research describing tests that can yield results in anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. But speed isn’t everything. The tests have to be available to as many people as possible, and that’s where a smart testing device from the UK might help. Scientists have developed a smart, rapid test that can be used by anyone from the comfort of his or her own home.
Researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University, and the University of Surrey have developed a breakthrough test that detects the COVID-19 virus in just 30 minutes, the Lancaster University announced. They’re using “artificial intelligence, image processing, molecular virology, and vast experience in the applied technologies” to develop the test kit. The system would only cost around £100 ($117) and it can process up to six nasal or throat swabs at once, which would cost £4 ($4.7) per person. The handheld device packs a battery and connects to a smartphone to deliver the results. That means the swabs don’t need to be taken to a laboratory for processing, and the results are as close to instant as we’re going to get.
Such kits could be used by people in isolation who suspect they may have been infected, or by COVID-19 patients who think they may have recovered. There are many use cases for a portable COVID-19 testing kit, and it could be deployed widely around the world, even in remote places that don’t have access to good health care.
“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 mobile phone app,” the report notes. It’s unclear how the system would be able to track other users, bu the app could easily use the geolocation capabilities of a smartphone for that.
The test sounds too good to be true, but it’s certainly the kind of innovation a pandemic of this scale can foster. Proper regulatory approvals would be needed before such a test becomes a reality, but the researchers seem is convinced that their invention could be useful to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Normally, anything like this would have to go through clinical trials,” Brunel University London’s Professor Wamadeva Balachandran said. “But this is not a normal situation. According to the Imperial College model, this pandemic 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 have limited time to stop the virus spreading, so anything like this is going to help. Speed is essential. With local hospitals’ help, we aim to do a limited number of tests with available positive and negative samples.”
It’s unclear when, or even if this test will be available in the UK or in other regions.
These UK researchers aren’t the only ones working on at-home COVID-19 testing. Amazon Care will assist Seattle with at-home COVID-19 testing, CNBC reported a few days ago. But Amazon will deliver and pick-up the kits, so the method isn’t as sophisticated. Still, this is another type of coronavirus screening procedure that can help local authorities determine how widespread the outbreak is. Participants who experience symptoms or are asymptomatic will self-administer the tests in Seattle, but the analysis will happen in a proper laboratory. In the event that the novel coronavirus is detected, the patient will be contacted by a healthcare professional.