A team of researchers has helped develop a COVID-19 testing device that can detect coronavirus infection in as little as 30 seconds with as much sensitivity and accuracy as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the gold standard of testing.
According to a recent peer-reviewed study published by the University of Florida group, like PCR tests, the device is 90% accurate, with the same sensitivity.
It could transform the ability of public health officials to quickly detect and respond to the coronavirus or the next pandemic.
“There’s nothing like it,” said University of Florida researcher Josephine Esquivel-Upshaw.
However, it is not yet approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
First, the researchers said, they need to make sure test results aren’t skewed by cross-contamination with other pathogens found in the mouth and saliva. These include other coronaviruses, staph infections, influenza, pneumonia and 20 others. This work is ongoing.
The handheld device is powered by a 9-volt battery and uses an inexpensive test strip, similar to those used in blood glucose meters, with anti-coronavirus antibodies attached to a gold-plated film on its end. The strip is placed on the tongue to collect a small sample of saliva. The strip is then inserted into a reader connected to a circuit board with the brain of the device.
If someone is infected, the coronavirus in the saliva binds to the antibodies and begins a sort of dance as they are driven by two electrical impulses processed by a special transistor. A higher concentration of coronavirus changes the electrical conductance of the sample. This, in turn, changes the voltage of the electrical impulses.
The voltage signal is amplified a million times and converted into a digital value – in a sense, the electrochemical fingerprint of the sample. This value will indicate a positive or negative result, and the lower the value, the higher the viral load.
The researchers said the device’s ability to quantify viral and antibody load makes it particularly useful for clinical purposes.
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