Scientists from the Department of Physics, Oxford University have developed a rapid antigen test, which can give results in under 5 minutes. This could be used for testing at crucial points such as airports etc.
Due to the increasing number of coronavirus cases all over the world, rapid and accurate testing is a key player in controlling the pandemic. In the wake of this, this new method of testing could be beneficial to all.
The method was published in MedRxiv. Their method is able to identify with high accuracy SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. It can also differentiate between this virus and other common respiratory pathogens such as seasonal human coronaviruses and influenza. Single-particle imaging and deep learning offers an optimistic alternative to the traditional time-consuming methods of testing and creates a significant impact.
How does this extremely rapid antigen test work?
The first step is to collect throat swabs. It doesn’t require genome extraction, purification, or amplification of the viruses. The method begins with the rapid labelling of virus particles in the sample, with short fluorescent DNA strands. Using a microscope, images of the sample are collected. Each image contains hundreds of fluorescently-labelled viruses.
Machine learning software then quickly identifies the virus present in the sample. Their rapid antigen testing method takes advantage of the knowledge that different virus types have differences in their fluorescence labelling because of differences in their size, shape, and surface chemistry.
The scientists worked at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford with clinical collaborators to verify their assay on COVID-19 patient samples. These were confirmed by the conventional RT-PCR method.
The benefits of this test
According to professor Achilles Kapanidis of the Department of Physics, Oxford, their rapid antigen test quickly detects the virus, unlike other methods that either detect a delayed antibody response or that require expensive, time-consuming sample preparation. This means that their assay is simple, very rapid, and cost-effective too.
Nicolas Shiaelis, a DPhil Student at the University of Oxford says, “Our test is much faster than other existing diagnostic technologies; viral diagnosis in less than 5 minutes can make mass testing a reality, providing a proactive means to control viral outbreaks.”
Dr Nicole Robb, who was previously a Royal Society Fellow at the University of Oxford and now at Warwick Medical School, says that one of the major concerns for the upcoming winter season is the unpredictable effects of the circulation of the coronavirus along with other seasonal respiratory viruses. “We have shown that our assay can reliably distinguish between different viruses in clinical samples, a development that offers a crucial advantage in the next phase of the pandemic.”
The aim of the researchers is to develop an integrated device that could eventually be used for testing at crucial sites such as business, music venues, airports, etc. This will be beneficial in establishing and safeguarding COVID-19 free spaces.
The researchers are currently working with Oxford University Innovation (OUI) and two external business advisors, to set up a spinout. They are also seeking investment to accelerate the transformation of the rapid antigen test into a fully integrated device that could be used as a real-time diagnostic platform, which is capable of detecting several virus threats.
They are hoping to get their company incorporated by the end of 2020, start product development in early 2021, and have an approved device available after around 6 months.