Most popular test kits rely on labor- and time-intensive laboratory preparation and analysis methods; for instance, tests for the novel coronavirus can take days to detect the virus from nasal swabs. Now, researchers have demonstrated an inexpensive but sensitive smartphone-based testing system for viral and bacterial pathogens that takes about a half-hour to complete.
The roughly $50 smartphone accessory may reduce the pressure on testing laboratories throughout a pandemic such as COVID-19.
The results of the brand new multi-institutional study, headed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign electrical and computer engineering professor Brian Cunningham and bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir, are featured in the journal Lab on a Chip.
The research started with the goal of detecting a panel of viral and bacterial pathogens in horses, along with those who trigger severe respiratory illnesses similar to these presented in COVID-19, the researchers stated.
The new testing gadget is comprised of a small cartridge containing testing reagents and a port to insert a nasal extract or blood sample, the researchers stated—the whole unit clips to a smartphone.
Inside the cartridge, the reagents break open a pathogen’s outer shell to gain access to its RNA. A primer molecule then amplifies the genetic material into many millions of copies in about 10 or 15 minutes, the researchers stated. A fluorescent dye stains the copies and glows green when illuminated by blue LED light, which is then traced by the smartphone’s camera.