Researchers at the University of Washington developed a new COVID test technology that can provide accurate results in as little as 30 minutes. The technology aims to be a bridge between PCR tests, which are accurate but slow, and antigen tests, which are fast but suffer from reduced accuracy. The system provides results directly to a smartphone application and includes a low-cost sample reader. Technology could provide a viable testing system at the point of attention.
As with a recently reported COVID-19 test for use in low-resource regions, the latter technology is based on loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), a PCR-like assay that does not require cycles of repeated heating to achieve nucleic acid. amplification. This makes the hardware needed to perform the test much simpler than the bulky and expensive thermocyclers used to perform PCR. Although relatively inexpensive and able to be used at the point of attention, this technology seems to be aimed at both developed and developing markets.
“This test works at a constant temperature, so it eliminates the time of heating and cooling and gives results in about 30 minutes,” said Barry Lutz, one of the developers of the new system. “For a long time, the options have been a PCR test that is expensive and usually takes a day or more to get a result, or a fast antigen test that gives fast, low-cost results, but usually has lower accuracy than a laboratory PCR test.From day one, we designed our test so that it can be manufactured at low cost and high volume, while providing fast results with PCR-like performance.
PCR is often praised as the gold standard for COVID testing in terms of its accuracy of approximately 95%, while rapid antigen testing is slightly lower between 80 and 85%. To date, the LAMP-based test has shown an impressive 97% accuracy with nasal swab samples and requires a fraction of the time and equipment required for PCR.
The system includes a small, inexpensive detector that can be controlled with a smartphone, which also shows the results after the test. The detector can evaluate up to four samples at a time. Investigators describe the detector as small enough to fit in a car glove compartment.
“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough to use anywhere,” Lutz said. “We hope the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”