Researchers Have Developed a Cheap Coronavirus Self-Test and They're Looking for Someone to Make It

By Shabana Arif on at

Scientists are calling for manufacturers to step forward to help roll out a molecular test and smartphone app that can test a person for coronavirus and tell them if they're infected in just 30 minutes.

The kit has been developed by researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University and University of Surrey, and utilises similar tech to that used in the Philippines to check chickens for viral infections. Because the battery-operated device links to a smartphone, it can bypass the need for swabs to get sent off to a lab somewhere, giving definite results in 30-45 minutes. You just need to stick a swab up your nose or down your throat, pop it in the device, and you're away. What's more, it can test up to six people at a time. Brunel University London’s Professor Wamadeva Balachandran said:

“Now we know multiple genomes of Covid-19, we can develop the molecular test in a week and have it up and running on the device in three or four. We are confident it will respond well and rapidly need industrial partners to come on board. It will have a huge impact on the population at large."

According to the university, the test would cost "about £100 to mass-produce and about £25 to run six samples," which seems insanely cheap. Professor Balachandran added:

"Normally, anything like this would have to go through clinical trials. But this is not a normal situation. According to the Imperial College model, this might last for 18 months. And cases will rise over the next few months. Everyone is crying out for these tests, and many will take a long time. We haven’t got a long time, so anything like this is going to help. Speed is essential. With local hospitals’ help we aim to do a limited amount of tests with available positive and negative samples."

Another slightly more ominous aspect of the test - although very helpful from a scientific point of view in a world where such things will never get abused - the research team is working on a "telemedicine functionality" for the mobile app, which tracks the users' movements with their consent. Whether this is a box that they'd check with reams of terms and conditions, or a clear and concise summation saying they're being tracked isn't clarified. The purpose of this would be so that anyone who has had a close interaction with the diagnosed person could be contacted and told how to minimise the risk of infection and stop it from spreading to other people. Professor Roberto La Ragione, Deputy Head of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, said:

"We are delighted to be involved in the development of rapid diagnostic tools for Covid-19. With a rapid response from manufacturers, we could deliver a point-of-care test kit to support mass-scale testing within the NHS and globally."

Manufacturers interested in reaching out can contact wamadeva.balachandran@brunel.ac.uk.

Feature image credit: Brunel London University