Covid-19: Scientists develop test for that can identify virus in five minutes

A sign advising on wearing face coverings Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Scientists have developed a new rapid test for coronavirus that detects and identifies viruses in less than five minutes.

The test, created by researchers from Oxford University’s department of physics, is able to differentiate Sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, from negative clinical samples.

It is also able to tell it apart from other viruses such as flu and seasonal human coronaviruses, according to the study.

Working directly on throat swabs from Covid-19 patients, without the need for genome extraction, purification or amplification of the viruses, the method starts with the rapid labelling of virus particles in the sample with short fluorescent DNA strands.

A microscope is then used to collect images of the sample, with each image containing hundreds of fluorescently-labelled viruses.

Machine-learning software quickly and automatically identifies the virus present in the sample.

Researchers say this approach exploits the fact that distinct virus types have differences in their fluorescence labelling due to differences in their surface chemistry, size, and shape.

The scientists worked with collaborators at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to validate the test on Covid-19 patient samples which were confirmed by conventional RT-PCR methods.

The test can tell coronavirus apart from other viruses, such as flu and seasonal human coronaviruses. Credit: PA

Professor Achilles Kapanidis, at Oxford’s department of physics, said: “Unlike other technologies that detect a delayed antibody response or that require expensive, tedious and time-consuming sample preparation, our method quickly detects intact virus particles, meaning the assay is simple, extremely rapid, and cost-effective.”

The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, is published on the research site, medRxiv.

DPhil student Nicolas Shiaelis, at the University of Oxford, said: “Our test is much faster than other existing diagnostic technologies.

“Viral diagnosis in less than five minutes can make mass testing a reality, providing a proactive means to control viral outbreaks.”

The researchers aim to develop an integrated device that will eventually be used for testing in sites such as businesses, music venues, and airports to establish and safeguard Covid-19-free spaces.

They hope to incorporate the company by the end of the year, start product development in early 2021, and have an approved device available within six months of that time.