Covid-19 home test kit could be approved by autumn
A new test for Covid-19 that can be used at home like a pregnancy test is being developed by researchers at the University of Manchester.
The prototype tests for the sugars which Covid-19 uses to trick its way into human cells, a constant facet of its lifecycle that shouldn’t change even as it mutates over generations.
The simple-to-use testing device has the potential to be used in ‘hotspot’ communities, e.g. by frontline NHS staff to allow doctors and nurses to easily test at home to see whether or not they have Covid-19 symptoms before going to work.
The University of Manchester researchers hope the new test will be officially validated by the autumn, a launch frame they say is essential in order to help people differentiate between diagnoses of ‘flu vs coronavirus’ given the typical trend of flu season, which can initially present similar symptoms.
Research professor Rob Field said: “Our existing prototype product for influenza can detect the virus in less than 20 minutes and could be adapted to identify other pathogens such as coronavirus.
“Respiratory viruses invade the body through cells in the airways and lungs. These cells are covered in a coat of sugar chains, known as glycans, which are used for normal function of human tissues. Viruses can utilise these glycans as part of the infection process.
“Right now, everybody is talking about a vaccine for coronavirus, but vaccine development, validation, safety-testing, manufacture, regulatory approval and deployment is a time-consuming process.
“A low-cost, easy-to-use screening test that can be performed at the point of care would be an ideal way to limit initial disease transmission in the community and at points of entry to hospitals, or at national borders, for instance.
“Current Covid-19 tests are largely based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) that requires a laboratory setting for analysis and relies on prior knowledge of the viral genetic code. This code can change as the virus evolves, potentially limiting the effectiveness of the test.
“The Iceni Diagnostics approach uses glycan recognition, which is unaffected by seasonal variation in the genetic code, and can be offered as a handheld home or field-based test.”
Professor Field and his dedicated team have already developed a series of prototype products that can specifically detect pathogens such as Norovirus and different strains of influenza in less than 20 minutes.
The hand-held device currently under development uses lateral flow - similar to pregnancy tests - that can give a simple yes/no answer as to whether the user is infected. It requires no refrigeration and no training, meaning the test is usable in any location, by any person, in order to detect flu or other pathogens.
Professor Field says that the device holds huge promise for changing the way we manage global disease: “This new approach, which is based on host-pathogen glycan recognition could potentially result in a more universal detection technique, crucial in early diagnostics of outbreaks.”
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