Cambridge team develop test that can diagnose Covid-19 in less than 90 minutes

  • Click below to watch a video report by ITV News Anglia's Matthew Hudson

New testing devices developed by a Cambridge team that can diagnose Covid-19 in less than 90 minutes are being used at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

The portable machines, called Samba II, have been developed by a University of Cambridge spin-off company called Diagnostics for the Real World.

10 are currently being used at Addenbrooke's Hospital this week but researchers said their tests, which have been validated by Public Health England, are expected to be launched in hospitals across the country.

Credit: ITV News Anglia

"Our goal has always been to make cutting-edge technology so simple and robust that the Samba machine can be placed literally anywhere and operated by anyone with minimum training."

Helen Lee, Chief Executive of Diagnostics for the Real World
The Samba test can give results in 90 minutes- rather than 24 hours. Credit: ITV News Anglia

It comes as the Health Secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock announced that the government's goal is to test up to 100,000 people per day by the end of the month, stressing that 'Our ultimate goal is that anyone who needs a test can have one.'

'The new national effort for testing will ensure that we can get tests for everyone who needs them and I am delighted that the pharmaceutical industry is rising to this challenge, putting unprecedented resources into testing,' he said.

Credit: Diagnostics for the Real World.

Researchers say Samba can deliver a diagnosis in less than 90 minutes while current tests can take 24 hours or longer.

Once nasal and throat swabs have been collected from patients, the samples will be loaded into the machines, which look for tiny traces of genetic material belonging to the coronavirus.

They claim that tests in 102 patient samples were shown to have 98.7% sensitivity (ability to correctly identify positive cases) and 100% specificity (the ability to correctly identify negative cases) compared with the current NHS test.

“Testing healthcare workers could help reduce the risk of infection in healthcare facilities themselves, which might in turn assist national control efforts. It will also reduce the number of staff self-isolating for symptoms as we could use the test to determine who is actually infected. At present the lack of testing is resulting in severe staff shortages nationally.”

Professor Ravi Gupta from the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease
It comes as the govt announced a major testing programme. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The machines will be used by healthcare workers as well as other patients suspected of having Covid-19 across the country.

It comes as the first patients from Addenbrooke's and the Royal Papworth Hospitals are enrolled on a national trial to find treatments for Covid-19.

Doctors describe the trial as "our best chance" of fighting the virus with medication.

"What we really want to offer our patients is the confidence that we have something that we know works and not something that we have to rely on reports that haven't been validated through clinical trials."

Dr Martin Knolle, Addenbrooke's Hospital
Dr Mark Toshner at work. Credit: Dr Mark Toshner

Dr Mark Toshner is a lecturer at the university and a consultant at the Royal Papworth.

His brother is also a doctor and is currently recovering from the virus after contracting it working on the frontline in London.

Dr Toshner says the virus will impact all of us in some way - and that has made researchers at the University of Cambridge more determined.

"Technically, the university has been shuttered but actually almost every researcher I know is working on Covid. Some of them are doing it remotely, some of them are coming in. There's a whole campus that's pointed at this."

Dr Mark Toshner, University of Cambridge