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POCT for COVID-19

A new COVID-19 test that reduces testing time from 30 minutes to less than five and delivers accurate results has been developed by scientists at the University of Birmingham.

The team believe their method could deliver a test that is not only fast, but also sufficiently sensitive. It does not require samples to be treated at high temperatures, and it can be performed using standard laboratory equipment, making it readily deployable.

A preprint paper (yet to be peer reviewed) describing the new process has been published on MedRxiv in which the researchers demonstrate the rapidity and sensitivity of their method using patient sample RNA provided by Public Health England.

Professor Tim Dafforn from the University’s School of Biosciences said: “We have designed a new method for testing that combines the ease of use and speed of lateral flow testing with the inherent sensitivity of an RNA test. It features reagents that can be used in existing point-of-care devices and meets the need for testing in high-throughput, near-patient settings where people may be waiting in line for their results.”

The most accurate COVID-19 tests currently in use require detecting viral RNA – the most common of these use polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which involves first converting the RNA to DNA and then “amplifying” the material many times over.

The new Birmingham test simplifies the method to a single step and uses an alternative amplification method called exponential amplification reaction.

This technique uses very short, single strands of DNA for the replication process, which can be completed in a matter of minutes, making a significant reduction in the overall time needed to produce results.

The entire test can be run on standard laboratory equipment at lower temperatures compared with PCR tests, which require higher temperatures to separate out strands of DNA as part of the amplification process.  

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