As COVID-19 continues to spread, bottlenecks in supplies and laboratory personnel have led to long waiting times for results in some areas.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, bottlenecks in supplies and laboratory personnel have led to long waiting times for results in some areas. In a new study, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign researchers have demonstrated a prototype of a rapid COVID-19 molecular test and a simple-to-use, portable instrument for reading the results with a smartphone in 30 minutes, which could enable point-of-care diagnosis without needing to send samples to a lab.
“If such a device and test were available, we could test for COVID-19 at public events, auditoriums, large gatherings and potentially even at home for self-testing. The results could be sent back to the appropriate public health system for coordination,” said Rashid Bashir, a professor of bioengineering and the dean of the Grainger College of Engineering at Illinois. Bashir co-led the study with electrical and computer engineering professor Brian Cunningham and mechanical science and engineering professor Bill King.
Typical tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, take a sample from a patient with a long nasopharyngeal swab, put that swab into a substance called viral transport media, and send it to a lab for a multistep process of extracting, isolating and multiplying the telltale RNA inside the virus. This RNA multiplication process, called RT-PCR, requires several temperature fluctuation cycles, specialized equipment and trained personnel, Cunningham said.
As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Illinois team used a simpler process to analyze the viral transport media, called LAMP, which bypasses the RNA extraction and purification steps.
Image: Illinois researchers developed a microfluidic cartridge for a 30-minute COVID-19 test. The cartridges are 3D-printed and could be manufactured quickly. (Credit: Photo courtesy of Bill King, University of Illinois)