Researchers develop smartphone-powered coronavirus test

The at-home test would provide users with a clear indication about whether they had the disease, thereby hopefully reducing the strain on the NHS.

Scientists working at three UK universities have designed and developed a smart testing device for coronavirus.

The device provides users with at-home information about whether or not they have COVID-19, and is controlled by an “intelligent smartphone application”.

The science

Researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University and the University of Surrey developed the device from existing science from the Philippines, which is usually used to check chickens for viral infections.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic it has been altered to detect COVID-19 in humans, using a battery-operated device that is hooked up to and controlled by a smartphone app. To get results, users insert swabs taken from the nose or throat into the device.

The researchers claim that results are produced in half an hour and that up to six people can be tested at one time.

Being linked to a smartphone, the device’s inventors also intend for it to have the capability to track down all people who have previously had recent close contact with any newly identified patients and alert them of their own potential diagnosis. They would then be advised on their next steps through the app.

“The idea is to make it cheaper than other tests”

As with any home test, it is hoped that a mass rollout of this technology could significantly reduce the pressure on the country’s already-strained NHS, both by allowing self-isolating patients to confirm their own cases, and allowing NHS staff to test themselves and self-isolate where appropriate.

The system has been designed to be used in non-medical settings, with minimal training required – meaning it could be used by those without medical experience, and without the necessity of sending samples to labs.

“The idea is to try and make it cheaper than other tests so it can be used worldwide at home, in GP surgeries, hospitals and workplaces,” says a statement from Brunel.

“Speed is essential”

The team behind the test has now put out a call to manufacturers to get the device mass produced.

“Now we know the multiple genomes of COVID-19, we can develop the molecular test in a week and have it up and running on the device in three or four,” says Professor Wamadeva Balachandran of Brunel. “We are confident it will respond well and rapidly need industrial partners to come on board – it will have a huge impact on the population at large.”

In normal circumstances, a product like this would need to be put through clinical trials before it found its way to consumers. But, as Balachandran says, these are not normal circumstances.

“Everyone is crying out for these tests, and many will take a long time,” he says. “We haven’t got a long time, so anything like this is going to help – speed is essential.”

“Millions” of at-home testing kits available “within days”

The news of this new test comes in the same week as the UK public was promised “millions” of at-home testing kits would soon be made available for purchase on the high street.

It is unknown at present how much these tests will be sold for or when they will be made available, though the director of the national infection service at Public Health England said it could be possible “within days”.

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