Researchers at the University of Washington developed a new COVID testing technology that can provide accurate results in as little as 30 minutes. The technology intends to be a bridge between PCR tests, which are accurate but slow, and antigen tests, which are rapid but suffer from reduced accuracy. The system provides results straight to a smartphone app, and includes an inexpensive sample reader. The technology could provide a viable point-of-care testing system.
As with a recently reported COVID-19 test intended for use in low-resource regions, this latest technology is based on loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), a PCR-like assay, which does not require repeated heating cycles to achieve nucleic acid amplification. This makes the hardware required to perform the assay much simpler than the bulky and expensive thermocyclers used to perform PCR. While comparatively inexpensive and capable of point-of-care use, this technology appears to be aimed at both developed and developing markets.
“This test operates at a constant temperature, so it eliminates the time to heat and cool 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 either a PCR test that is expensive and typically takes a day or more to get a result, or a rapid antigen test that gives fast results and is low cost, but typically has lower accuracy than a lab PCR test. From the first day, we designed our test to be manufacturable at low cost and high volume, while delivering fast results with PCR-like performance.”
PCR is typically lauded as the gold standard for COVID testing in terms of its reported accuracy of approximately 95%, whereas rapid antigen tests are a bit lower at 80–85%. So far, the LAMP-based test has shown impressive accuracy of 97% with nasal swab samples, and takes a fraction of the time and equipment required for PCR.
The system includes a small, inexpensive detector that can be controlled using a smartphone, which also displays the results after the test. The detector can assess a maximum of four samples at one time. The researchers describe the detector as small enough to fit into a glove compartment in a car.
“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere,” said Lutz. “We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”
Study in Science Advances: Harmony COVID-19: A ready-to-use kit, low-cost detector, and smartphone app for point-of-care SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection