A team of scientists from the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) is developing a rapid test kit for COVID-19. This new technology is said to be able to give results in just half an hour, over three times faster than the current method. We speak to Lim Boon Chuan, a 26-year old Malaysian PhD student, who is part of the team for the latest development.
What are the readily available diagnostic kits for COVID-19?
“The golden standard to diagnose COVID-19 is through a method called RT-qPCR (reverse transcription – real time polymerase chain reaction). This is a molecular method that amplifies the viral genetic materials (in this case the RNA of SARS-CoV-2) to an amount that is detectable via a device.”
What is the latest update on the development of the rapid testing technology by your research team in Oxford?
“We are working with local hospitals on real patients’ samples to validate our testing kits.”
How does the technology used in your diagnostic kit differ from the existing kits?
“The fundamentals of our test kit is similar to the existing one, which is to amplify the RNA of SARS-CoV-2 to a detectable amount. But the reagent we used only required a fixed temperature (65 degree Celsius) for 30 minutes, rather than a cycle of different temperatures (95 to 60/70 to 70 degree Celsius for 30 cycles) which takes about 2 hours to complete. We can also visualise the result through a simple colour change without the need of a specialised instrument.”
What is the end goal in terms of application of this invention? Will it serve as a home test kit?
“I wouldn’t call this an invention per se, we are using an old method published 20 years ago and use it as a viral diagnostic. The end goal is to make testing into an integrated process that can be done at a personal/home testing level. We are working towards this goal but at the moment the main priority is to get this to hospitals/diagnostic centres where they are needed the most.”
Have you tested the kit on COVID-19 patients? If yes, what is the outcome?
“We have done clinical validation on real patients’ samples and we have 100% match to the results generated from RT-qPCR. We still need to do more testing and collect more data to show a higher confidence level. ”
How long more before we see this test kit in the markets and ready to be used?
“Whether the test kits will be in the market is not up to us. We as a research team are providing the know-hows to do the detection. We don’t have the capability to mass produce at a national level, nor can we lobby the government to put our test kits at the forefront.”
What are the steps required to use your test kit used to test for COVID-19?
“The same as when you go for testing now.”
Will it be able to test asymptomatic patients?
“Yes. Method used to detect viral genetic material is aiming to detect the presence of a virus, whether or not a patient is showing symptoms.”
What would be the next stage of development for your test kits?
“More work is being done on optimising and streamlining the testing process taking into consideration the logistical issues, especially when it comes to delivery and prepping the patients’ samples for molecular testing.”
Boon Chuan is part of a 13-member scientist team led by Prof Zhanfeng Cui and Prof Wei Huang at the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR). Boon Chuan is currently studying synthetic biology at the university.
*Read more about the research here: http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2020-03-18-oxford-scientists-develop-rapid-testing-technology-covid-19
**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/