NUIG gets €200k to build handheld Covid-19 test

The handheld, battery-operated device will carry out rapid detection of COVID-19 using a laser in approximately 15 minutes.

A joint venture between researchers from NUI Galway and the University of Wyoming has been awarded €199,720 from the Health Research Board to develop a handheld device for rapid detection of COVID-19.

The team of researchers hope to have the device available here at some point early in 2021, and it will also test for antibodies to the virus in human samples.

The test device is already being sold and the research team are currently developing a COVID test to work with it in order to produce and distribute large quantities within a short period of time. The rapid test will be capable of being administered by anyone, such as airport officials or school principals.

The project is being led by professor Gerard Wall, College of Science and Engineering and SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices at NUI Galway, along with professors Patrick Johnson and Karen Wawrousek from the University of Wyoming’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

“Rapid detection of the virus on-site will allow potentially infectious people to be identified so that decisions on isolation and treatment can be made immediately”

Professor Wall will employ a laboratory-based technique that mimics the human immune response “in vitro”, or in a test tube, to produce antibody fragments for use in the detection of the virus. The antibody fragments will enable high sensitivity and reproducibility of the device and can be produced in large quantities in bacterial cells.

Professor Johnson and professor Wawrousek will attach the antibody fragments to nanoparticles for incorporation into a handheld, battery-operated device that will carry out rapid detection of the virus in approximately 15 minutes.

Professor Gerard Wall, NUI Galway, said: “Rapid detection of the virus on-site will allow potentially infectious people to be identified so that decisions on isolation and treatment can be made immediately,” said professor Wall. “There are clear applications for this type of device in airports, workplaces or schools, among other locations.”

Samples can be collected from saliva, nasal swab or blood, and will then be placed in glass vials and inserted into handheld instruments, called Raman spectrometers, for analysis.

Professor Johnson from the University of Wyoming added; “Our test will have higher sensitivity than other rapid tests and will not require any sample preparation.

“The idea is to have an accurate, portable, on-site test with results within 15-20 minutes. This will allow rapid answers while the person is still present, enabling immediate intervention and treatment.”

The project team plans to use Raman spectrometers developed by entrepreneur Keith Carron, CEO of Metrohm Raman in Laramie, Wyoming, and will work with Noah Hull, Microbiology Laboratories manager at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory to validate the assay against known positive and negative samples.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 16 November, 2020