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Lab-in-a-Backpack Offers Fast, Affordable, Reliable COVID-19 Testing

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Jan 2022
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Image: Lab-in-a-Backpack (Photo courtesy of Queen Mary University of London)
Image: Lab-in-a-Backpack (Photo courtesy of Queen Mary University of London)

Researchers have created a simple COVID-19 testing lab that fits into a backpack providing a cheap and effective solution for low income or remote areas.

In a new study, scientists from Queen Mary University of London (London, UK) have shown that their lab-in-a-backpack approach is as effective as commercially available COVID-19 tests at detecting SARS-CoV-2. The compact kit is relatively inexpensive to make, costing USD 51 in total. It could offer an alternative testing solution for resource-poor countries or remote areas with little access to well-equipped testing labs or trained personnel to process samples. The testing kit is based on a simple, non-invasive COVID-19 LAMP test and uses low-cost hardware, including a centrifuge made from recycled computer hard drives, called a CentriDrive, to process samples.

The LAMP test is a widely accepted alternative to the commonly used PCR test, has a similar sensitivity but unlike the PCR test does not require temperature cycling, only a single high temperature to amplify any potential virus RNA. This allows the test to be performed with only minimal equipment and reagents. Because the LAMP test uses saliva samples, it also avoids the need for invasive, uncomfortable nasal swabs. However, the high costs of commercially available LAMP tests, as well as the expensive lab equipment required to run them, means that current commercial approaches aren’t suitable for remote locations, or in-home testing.

According to the researchers, the next steps will include making the kit instructions even more understandable so that people can use them regardless of their experience or language, as well as validating the kit with real patient samples. So, whilst this approach holds promise, further work is needed before the system can be implemented in real-world environments.

“In this study, using the LAMP test method in combination with a low-cost centrifuge, we provided an inexpensive, rapid and accurate method for the detection of COVID-19,” said Emily Lin, lead author of the study. “It will not only provide a viable and inexpensive test kit for regions such as Africa, where innovative solutions are particularly important during the Covid-19 pandemic. It can also be used in resource-rich areas, for example, in high school classrooms to demonstrate how to test for COVID-19.”

“We are excited for the potential of this mobile lab to do COVID-19 tests and the possibility to democratize access to inexpensive testing technology,” said Professor Stoyan Smoukov, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen Mary University of London. “It is made possible by our philosophy of creating low-cost instruments whenever possible from advances in electronics, or existing instruments.”

“Reuse is a high-value option for energy and materials sustainability, and we are glad that rather than exporting electronics waste to developing countries, we can export ways to empower people and turn waste computer hard drives into a centrifuge. The COVID-19 test is a timely application, but we also believe with this CentriDrive kit people could perform a large array of routine blood and urine tests, providing a centrifuge away from central hospital facilities,” added Professor Smoukov.

Related Links:
Queen Mary University of London 

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