Foto University of Oxford

We’ve all seen the footage over the past few days of hospitals with drive-in corona tests. Large tents are also being set up in other places where testing for the deadly virus is to be carried out. Already there are people who do it at home before dropping it off at a laboratory. None of this is very accurate. Laboratories can barely handle the volume and waiting for the results takes hours.

It appears that researchers from Oxford University and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research in China have now developed a faster and simpler method of testing for the Covid-19 virus. The research team, led by Professors Zhanfeng Cui and Wei Huang, claims that their test reveals whether someone is positive or negative after half an hour. That’s roughly six times faster than what is currently possible.

RNA

Wei Huang: ‘The beauty of this test lies in in how it detects the virus. Here, we look very specifically for the presence of RNA material from the Covid-19 virus.” RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) is a bit like DNA. It’s a molecule that plays an important role in the transmission and spread of the virus in the body.

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According to Huang, the test has proven to be very accurate so far. An additional advantage is that the test is very sensitive. Which means that people in the very early stages of the virus – who don’t feel sick at all – are able to be identified as infected much sooner. People can then be quarantined in time.

Still to be tested in the United Kingdom

To date, however, the technology has only been used in a hospital in Shenzhen. That’s a city in China close to Hong Kong with a population of many millions. The technology is relatively simple. It requires a basic heating block with a constant temperature that more or less translates hot RNA material. Results can be viewed by the naked eye, so the test can also be rolled out in rural areas.

Oxford scientists are now working on an integrated device so that the test can be used in clinics, airports or even at home. This device will first be further tested in the United Kingdom for its degree of accuracy. A manufacturer will then be sought.

 

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.