NUIG to share €200,000 funding to develop rapid coronavirus-testing device

16 Nov 2020

Image: © tsuguliev/

Researchers from NUI Galway and the University of Wyoming are developing a handheld device that could detect Covid-19 infection in 15 minutes.

Ireland’s Health Research Board has awarded researchers from NUI Galway and the University of Wyoming a grant of €199,720 to develop a handheld device for rapid detection of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

The battery-operated device, which researchers aim to make available by early next year, is designed to detect the virus using a laser in approximately 15 minutes.

Its developers are now looking to develop an accompanying Covid-19 test in order to produce and distribute large quantities within a short period of time. It will be possible for the rapid test to be administered by anyone, researchers said, such as airport officials or school principals.

The research effort is led by NUI Galway’s Prof Gerard Wall, who is also based at the SFI medical device research centre Cúram, along with Prof Patrick Johnson and Karen Wawrousek of the University of Wyoming.

‘Immediate intervention and treatment’

As part of the joint effort, Wall will look to produce antibody fragments in vitro for use in the detection of SARS-CoV-2. The antibody fragments will enable high sensitivity and reproducibility of the device and can be produced in large quantities in bacterial cells.

Johnson and Wawrousek will then attach the antibody fragments to nanoparticles for incorporation into a handheld, battery-operated device that will carry out rapid detection of the virus using a laser.

Samples can be collected from saliva, a nasal swab or blood, which can then be placed in glass vials and inserted into handheld testing devices, called Raman spectrometers, for analysis. Johnson said that the test used by the device will have higher sensitivity than other rapid tests and will not require any sample preparation.

“The idea is to have an accurate, portable, on-site test with results within 15 to 20 minutes,” he said. “This will allow rapid answers while the person is still present, enabling immediate intervention and treatment.”

The researchers said that they plan to use Raman spectrometers developed by Metrohm Raman in Wyoming and will work with the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory to validate the assay against known positive and negative samples.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic