NUI Galway Receive Grant to Develop Handheld Device for Rapid COVID-19 Testing

Hand-held, battery-operated device will carry out rapid detection of the virus using a laser in approximately 15 minutes
Device will also test for antibodies to the virus in human samples
Device could carry out rapid on-site tests in airports, workplaces and schools
Test can be administered by anyone, without medical or scientific training

Researchers from NUI Galway and the University of Wyoming have received a grant of €199,720 from the Health Research Board to develop a handheld device for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The device, which they aim to have available early next year, will also test for antibodies to the virus in human samples.

The test device is already being sold and the research team are currently developing a COVID test to work with it in order to produce and distribute large quantities within a short period of time. The rapid test will be capable of being administered by anyone, such as airport officials or school principals.

Professor Gerard Wall, of Microbiology, College of Science and Engineering and SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices (CÚRAM) at NUI Galway, is leading the research along with Professors Patrick Johnson and Karen Wawrousek from the University of Wyoming’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Professor Wall will employ a laboratory-based technique that mimics the human immune response “in vitro”, or in a test tube, to produce antibody fragments for use in the detection of the virus. The antibody fragments will enable high sensitivity and reproducibility of the device, and can be produced in large quantities in bacterial cells.

Professors Johnson and Wawrousek will attach the antibody fragments to nanoparticles for incorporation into a hand-held, battery-operated device that will carry out rapid detection of the virus using a laser, in approximately 15 minutes.

Professor Gerard Wall, NUI Galway, said: “Rapid detection of the virus on-site will allow potentially infectious people to be identified so that decisions on isolation and treatment can be made immediately. There are clear applications for this type of device in airports, workplaces or schools, among other locations.”

Professor Patrick Johnson, University of Wyoming, said: “Our test will have higher sensitivity than other rapid tests and will not require any sample preparation. The idea is to have an accurate, portable, on-site test with results within 15-20 minutes. This will allow rapid answers while the person is still present, enabling immediate intervention and treatment.”

Samples can be collected from saliva, nasal swab or blood. The samples will then be placed in glass vials and inserted into hand-held instruments, called Raman spectrometers, for analysis.

The project team plans to use Raman spectrometers developed by entrepreneur Keith Carron, CEO of Metrohm Raman in Laramie, Wyoming and will work with Noah Hull, Microbiology Laboratories manager at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory to validate the assay against known positive and negative samples.

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