Easy-to-use coronavirus testing kit can diagnose in just 30 minutes

19 Mar 2020

The coronavirus testing kit. Image: University of Oxford

Scientists in the UK and China have teamed up to develop a coronavirus testing kit that can detect the virus in as little as 30 minutes.

While the race is on to develop a vaccine for the current coronavirus pandemic, other researchers are working to find ways of detecting the virus as fast as possible. By developing faster testing kits, someone with a confirmed case can be quickly quarantined to prevent any further spread of the virus.

Now, scientists from the University of Oxford and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have revealed new RNA testing technology that can detect coronavirus in as little as 30 minutes. By comparison, previous RNA testing could take anywhere between 1.5 and two hours.

Prof Wei Huang, one of those leading the research, said: “The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise [coronavirus] and RNA fragments. The test has built-in checks to prevent false positives or negatives and the results have been highly accurate.”

Importantly, the testing technology is very sensitive, meaning patients in the earliest stages of infection can be identified sooner, which could help limit the virus’ spread. It works using a simplified heat block that maintains a constant temperature for RNA reverse transcription and DNA amplification.

Backed up by standard testing

These results can be spotted with the naked eye using the technology, which is potentially useful for areas with limited resources, such as community health centres. The test includes three vials, each with different primers. A positive test would turn two vials yellow and leave one pink. This acts as a negative control to confirm the test is working.

In testing among 16 people at Shenzhen Luohu People’s Hospital in China, the technology returned eight positive cases and eight negative cases. Follow-up testing with conventional methods confirmed these results.

The Oxford scientists are now looking to develop a device so that the technology can be used in clinics and airports, or even for home use.

It comes as the University of Oxford – as well as other major institutions in the UK – has told students to go home, unless they have a “compelling reason” to stay, in the wake of the pandemic.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic