British startup iAbra has launched a screening device which can deliver COVID-19 test results in 20 seconds.
After a successful three-week trial at London’s Heathrow Airport, CEO John Holland-Kaye urged the UK government to fast-track the Virolens system, which he says is quicker and cheaper than the currently used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
The technology, which is about to undergo clinical trials for medical use, is based on microscopic holographic imaging and artificial intelligence (AI), with design and manufacturing expertise from TT Electronics and technology powered by Intel.
It uses a digital camera attached to a microscope to analyse saliva samples, with the data run through a computer which is trained to identify the virus from other cells.
WHY IT MATTERS
The Virolens system could offer a more efficient alternative to the widely used PCR swab tests, which are conducted in laboratories, taking between 12 and 24 hours to return a result.
Another option which provides faster results is the LamPore test, developed by Oxford University spin-out, Oxford Nanopore, which can detect COVID-19 and other winter viruses in 60-90 minutes.
The technology uses a method called RT-LAMP to identify and amplify the SARS-CoV-2 virus in an original sample, and Oxford Nanopore’s sequencing technology to precisely identify the amplified virus.
LamPore has the same sensitivity as the PCR test but can be used to process swabs in pop up labs, such as the desktop GridION machine which can process up to 15,000 tests a day, or the palm-sized MinION which can process up to 2,000.
The UK government announced last month, that 450,000 LamPore swab tests would be made available across adult care settings, NHS laboratories and Lighthouse Laboratories, with millions more to be rolled-out later this year.
It also said that 5,000 portable COVID Nudge test machines, supplied by startup DnaNudge, would be rolled-out across NHS hospitals.
The testing, based on PCR, analyses DNA in nose swabs and can provide a result in 90 minutes, at the point of care without the need for a lab.
DnaNudge machines are operating in eight London hospitals and are hoped to provide 5.8 million tests over the coming months.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
To date, the UK COVID-19 testing system has carried out more than 16 million tests. But a leaked document seen by the BMJ, revealed ambitious government plans for a £100 billion ‘Operation Moonshot’ regime to carry out up to 10 million tests a day.
Earlier this month, UK health secretary, Matt Hancock announced £500 million to be invested in next generation testing technology, with pilots taking place in Salford, Southampton and Hampshire.
ON THE RECORD
Greg Compton, CEO of iAbra, said: “Our system allows simple, high speed, reliable and low-cost testing in dynamic environments. In short, with the Virolens system, we can get the world moving again.”
Holland-Kaye, said: “I have experienced iAbra’s test myself, alongside the PCR test – it is quicker and cheaper, and potentially more accurate. We urge the Government to fast-track this technology to protect the economy and help save millions of jobs in this country.”