A new coronavirus test works in just 15 minutes

A British DNA laboratory has developed a rapid coronavirus antibody test. It can be done 'one-the-spot' without the need to send samples away to a lab, and only requires a drop of blood. The test produces a result in around 15 minutes.

The company behind the testing kits has designed them for employers. As people are taking time off sick and/or being asked to self-isolate, it's crucial that organisations can keep their workforce safe and productive. The coronavirus testing kits are available to pre-order now on the company website. The antibody test can detect an infection before symptoms even appear (it's believed that many people will display mild or no symptoms if they become infected), or can indicate that a person has been infected in the past and has now recovered.

How it works

Rather than directly detecting the virus, the test looks for two specific antibodies - Immunoglobulin M (IgM) and Immunoglobulin G (IgG).

IgM is the largest antibody found in the human body and is released in response to new antigens such as coronavirus. If IgM is detected in the blood, it suggests that the patient has recently become infected.

IgG on the other hand is a highly specialised, adaptive antibody that is produced in response to the virus. If this is detected, it suggests that the patient is in the latter stages of an infection. The antibody test can detect one or both antibodies in a droplet of blood.

Step 1

A droplet of blood is extracted from the patient’s finger using a finger-prick device (similar to a routine diabetes test).

Step 2

The blood droplet is placed in the sample well of the testing device.

Step 3

A few drops of a special buffer fluid are added to the blood. This helps the blood react with the testing cassette.

 

Step 4

15 minutes later, between 1 and 3 lines will appear in the device’s display window, rather like a pregnancy test. The first line is the control line that always appears. The other 2 represent the two possible antibodies.

The antibody test works best as a quick & convenient screening test. If it comes back positive, it’s recommended that the patient contacts a doctor and arranges a more conclusive nasopharyngeal test at hospital.

The test can detect an infection even if the patient doesn’t show symptoms

Speaking to the Evening Standard newspaper, a spokesperson for the lab explained:

“Recent studies suggest that a high percentage of patients show no clinical symptoms, which is why the spread of coronavirus is creating major logistical and operational problems for businesses, with no way of predicting how long the pandemic will last or the impact it will have.

“Human resources teams are having to deal with the physical and emotional concerns of their staff while continuing to perform their duties in this climate of uncertainty.

“Immediate results are essential if employees need to be isolated or quarantined.

“As a testing services provider, we have been inundated by requests from our customers to help address the issue, as a lot of the advice currently available from government, health bodies and the media is very mixed.

“We are pleased to be able to respond to this demand by offering a fully-certificated European-registered device which can be used in a healthcare or commercial premises environment. We are proud to be the first UK laboratory equipped to process test results on a mass scale, although we have a limited supply of the kits available.”

Accuracy

The makers of the test describe it as a "reliable, rapid, cost effective means to quickly identity COVID 19 infection", which is exactly what businesses and other organisations need right now. A very similar test was used by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic last year.

Who can buy it?

Although ordinary members of the public can purchase a test, the manufacturers are expecting most sales to come from larger businesses. They are also planning to supply testing kits to the NHS.

If you are concerned about COVID-19, you should visit the NHS website and follow the advice there.

dnawarrington

Dave Smith

Science, health and biology writer based in the UK

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