Scientists from Oxford University’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have developed a rapid testing technology for COVID-19. The team, led by Prof Zhanfeng Cui and Prof Wei Huang, have been working to improve test capabilities as the virus spreads.
The new test is much faster and does not need a complicated instrument. Previous viral RNA tests took 1.5 to 2 hours to give a result. The research team has developed a new test, based on a technique which is capable of giving results in just 30 minutes – three times faster than the current method.
Professor Wei Huang says:
“The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RNA and RNA fragments. The test has built-in checks to prevent false positives or negatives and the results have been highly accurate.”
The researchers describe the technology as very sensitive. Patients in the early stages of infection may be identified sooner, potentially helping to reduce the spread of the virus. The technology only requires a simple heat-block to maintain constant temperature for the process, and the results can be read by the naked eye. This means it could be useful in rural areas or community healthcare centres.
The technology has been validated with real clinical samples at Shenzhen Luohu People’s Hospital in China. The hospital has applied the rapid detection kits on 16 samples, including 8 positives and 8 negatives, which have been confirmed by conventional methods and other clinical evidence. The test results using the rapid detection kits were all successful.
Prof Zhanfeng Cui, the director of OSCAR, says: “I am proud of our team that have developed a useful technology and can make a contribution to combating Covid-19, and we are very grateful to the hospital’s medical team led by Dr Xizhou Sun, Dr Xiuming Zhang and Dr Dan Xiong for their part in testing this new technology.”
The Oxford scientists are now working to develop an integrated device so that the test can be used at clinics, airports, or at home. They are planning to run clinical validations within the UK and exploring options for production of the test kits.
The project was initiated by Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research, an Oxford University centre in Suzhou Industrial Park. The experiments to develop the technology were carried out in the Department of Engineering Science in Oxford.
Latest updates on COVID-19 research at Oxford can be found at http://www.ox.ac.uk/coronavirus-research