Scientists from Oxford University in the UK say they have developed an “extremely rapid” diagnostic test that detects and identifies viruses in less than five minutes.

The method is able to differentiate, with very high accuracy, between the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 and other common respiratory viruses such as the flu virus. It can also quickly ascertain if the patient has a negative clinical sample where no virus is present.

“Unlike other technologies that detect a delayed antibody response or that require expensive, tedious and time-consuming sample preparation, our method quickly detects intact virus particles,” said Professor Achilles Kapanidis from the Oxford University’s Department of Physics.

A simple and cost-effective test

He explained that this means the test is “simple, extremely rapid and cost-effective”.

Working directly on throat swabs from COVID-19 patients, the method starts with the rapid labelling of virus particles in the sample with short fluorescent DNA strands.

A microscope is then used to collect images of the sample, with each image containing hundreds of fluorescently-labelled viruses.

Machine-learning software quickly and automatically identifies the virus present in the sample.

Faster than existing diagnoses

This approach exploits the fact that distinct virus types have differences in their fluorescence labelling due to differences in their surface chemistry, size, and shape.

“Our test is much faster than other existing diagnostic technologies,” said Nicolas Shiaelis, a student who worked on the project.

“Viral diagnosis in less than five minutes can make mass testing a reality, providing a proactive means to control viral outbreaks.”

Mass testing at various venues

The researchers now aim to develop a device that will eventually be used for testing at sites such as businesses, music venues and airports to establish and safeguard Covid-free spaces.

They are working with business and financial advisors to incorporate a company by the end of this year and start product development early in 2021.

An approved device should then be available in the latter part of next year.

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Presh JM Reporter

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