In a ray of hope to identify asymptomatic people, researchers in the US have developed a new test with a low-cost sensor that may enable the at-home diagnosis of a COVID infection through rapid analysis of small volumes of saliva or blood, without the involvement of a medical professional, in less than 10 minutes. When attached to supporting electronics, the sensor can wirelessly transmit data to the user's cell phone through Bluetooth technology.
A crucial part of the global effort to stem the spread of the pandemic is the development of tests that can rapidly identify infections in people who are not yet symptomatic.
The team at California Institute of technology developed this multiplexed test (a test that combines multiple kinds of data) with a low-cost sensor developed in the lab of Wei Gao, assistant professor in the Andrew and Peggy Cherng Department of medical engineering.
Named ‘SARS-CoV-2 RapidPlex,' the sensor contains antibodies and proteins that allow it to detect the presence of the virus itself, antibodies created by the body to fight the virus, and chemical markers of inflammation, which indicate the severity of the Covid-19 infection.
"This is the only telemedicine platform I've seen that can give information about the infection in three types of data with a single sensor," Gao said in a paper published online and will appear in the December issue of the journal Matter.
"In as little as a few minutes, we can simultaneously check these levels, so we get a full picture of the infection, including early infection, immunity, and severity".
Established COVID-testing technologies usually take hours or even days to produce results.
Those technologies also require expensive, complicated equipment, whereas Gao's system is simple and compact.
So far, the device has been tested only in the lab with a small number of blood and saliva samples obtained for medical research purposes from individuals who have tested positive or negative for Covid-19.
Though preliminary results indicate that the sensor is highly accurate, "a larger-scale test with real-world patients rather than laboratory samples must be performed, Gao cautions, to definitively determine its accuracy".
"Our ultimate aim really is home use," he said.
"In the following year, we plan to mail them to high-risk individuals for at-home testing. And in the future, this platform could be modified for other types of infectious disease testing at home".
(With agency inputs)