Coronavirus breakthrough: Lab-free COVID-19 test gives result in barely an hour

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We clearly believe it offers very significant potential in terms of mass population testing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Professor Chris Toumazou

Chris Toumazou FRS, Imperial College London’s Regius Professor of Engineering, has been working alongside clinical researchers to deliver the test, which is based on his DnaNudge consumer DNA testing innovation, and which if widely adopted would dramatically cut the time it would take to establish whether or not somebody had the illness. He said: “Early validation results for our technology in the COVID-19 patient study have been excellent. “The DnaNudge test was developed as a lab-free, on-the-spot consumer service that can be delivered at scale, so we clearly believe it offers very significant potential in terms of mass population testing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Lab-in-Cartridge rapid tests have been clinically validated after a successful initial trial on COVID-19 patients.

The evaluation, which began in recent days, will now involve large-scale clinical testing with a view to an extensive national roll-out, as part of the drive to meet the UK government’s testing targets.

The Department of Health and Social Care has procured 10,000 DnaNudge COVID-19 RNA testing cartridges to roll out to clinical sites.

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Professor Christ Toumazou (Image: Imperial)

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The test results can be delivered in just over an hour (Image: Imperial)

The Department of Health’s new COVID-19 Testing Strategy has cited the work as among “Encouraging innovators that are producing promising new types of tests”.

Experts at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust are working with the Imperial College London and DnaNudge team to enable the new test to be applied to patients and staff if it continues to prove successful.

The RNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test requires no sample handling and is able to deliver processing outside of a laboratory environment – using DnaNudge’s miniaturised “NudgeBox” analyser, which can be used anywhere.

With results delivered barely an hour, the technology has the potential to offer a substantial improvement on current lab-based PCR testing times – which take at least 1-2 days before a patient can receive the results.

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Prof Chris Toumazou with the test (Image: Imperial)

The swab can be placed directly into the cartridge and then straight into the box for analysis.

Professor Graham Cooke, NIHR Research Professor of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, who is leading the clinical development, said: “This is one of the most exciting technologies I’ve seen in this area, particularly because it avoids the need for any sample handling.

“Our early results are very encouraging and now we need to see how the test performs in different clinical settings and understand where it might have the biggest impact on care at this critical time.”

The technology builds on a number of innovations developed by Professor Toumazou and his team at Imperial’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, originally with other applications in mind.

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Imperial’s COVID-19 test (Image: Imperial)

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A drive-in test facility (Image: GETTY)

Breakthroughs include novel integration between biochemistry microfluidics, electronic circuits and miniaturisation based on smartphone technology.

Professor Nick Jennings, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise) at Imperial College London, said: “We urgently need to increase coronavirus testing capacity, which is why Chris Toumazou’s innovations are so welcome.

“In normal times, Imperial researchers constantly seek to apply their discoveries for societal benefit.

“In this time of crisis, it is heartening to see so many colleagues think laterally and flexibly as they help improve NHS capacity and our understanding of COVID-19.”

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COVID-19 deaths in the UK (Image: Daily Express)

Professor Toumazou, one of the world’s foremost biomedical engineers, is one of a large number of Imperial researchers offering their expertise and resources to fight COVID-19.

His colleagues include some of the world’s leading epidemiologists, virologists, diagnosticians, and frontline health workers redeploying labs, people and technologies as they work round-the-clock to help defeat coronavirus.

The DnaNudge in-store DNA testing service, which this coronavirus test is based on, was launched to consumers in November 2019.

It focuses on nutrition, analysing and mapping users’ genetic profile to key nutrition-related health traits.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to scale up testing dramatically (Image: GETTY)

With the results of a quick, one-time test, customers can use a DnaNudge smartphone App or wrist-worn DnaBand to scan product barcodes in the majority of major UK supermarkets, and discover whether a food product is “red” or “green” for their unique genetic make-up.

In an ingenious twist, the test has been repurposed to detect the RNA of COVID-19.

DnaNudge is an Imperial College London offshoot labs at the College’s White City Campus.

The test was developed in collaboration with TTP in Cambridge, where the CEO and core development team are Imperial alumni.


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