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Extremely Rapid COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Detects and Identifies SARS-CoV-2 Virus in Under Five Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 16 Oct 2020
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Image: The test uses a convolutional neural network to classify microscopy images of single intact particles of different viruses (Photo courtesy of University of Oxford)
Image: The test uses a convolutional neural network to classify microscopy images of single intact particles of different viruses (Photo courtesy of University of Oxford)
An extremely rapid diagnostic test can differentiate SARS-CoV-2 from negative clinical samples, as well as from other common respiratory pathogens such as influenza and seasonal human coronaviruses, with high accuracy in less than five minutes.

Working directly on throat swabs from COVID-19 patients, without the need for genome extraction, purification or amplification of the viruses, the method developed by scientists at the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK) starts with the rapid labeling of virus particles in the sample with short fluorescent DNA strands. A microscope is then used to collect images of the sample, with each image containing hundreds of fluorescently-labeled viruses. Machine-learning software quickly and automatically identifies the virus present in the sample. This approach exploits the fact that distinct virus types have differences in their fluorescence labeling due to differences in their surface chemistry, size, and shape.

The scientists have worked with clinical collaborators to validate the assay on COVID-19 patient samples which were confirmed by conventional RT-PCR methods. They now aim to develop an integrated device that will eventually be used for testing in sites such as businesses, music venues, airports etc., to establish and safeguard COVID-19-free spaces.

“Unlike other technologies that detect a delayed antibody response or that require expensive, tedious and time-consuming sample preparation, our method quickly detects intact virus particles; meaning the assay is simple, extremely rapid, and cost-effective,” said Professor Achilles Kapanidis, at Oxford’s Department of Physics.

“Our test is much faster than other existing diagnostic technologies; viral diagnosis in less than 5 minutes can make mass testing a reality, providing a proactive means to control viral outbreaks,” said DPhil student Nicolas Shiaelis, at the University of Oxford.

“A significant concern for the upcoming winter months is the unpredictable effects of co-circulation of SARS-CoV-2 with other seasonal respiratory viruses; we have shown that our assay can reliably distinguish between different viruses in clinical samples, a development that offers a crucial advantage in the next phase of the pandemic,” said Dr. Nicole Robb, formerly a Royal Society Fellow at the University of Oxford and now at Warwick Medical School.

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