Coronavirus BREAKTHROUGH: Oxford University develops rapid testing kit to help NHS doctors

A team led by Professors Zhanfeng Cui and Wei Huang have been working to improve test capabilities as the virus spreads across the world, with more than 190,000 cases as of yesterday. Their new test is much faster, and does not require complicated instrumentation.

The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RNA and RNA fragments

Professor Wei Huang

Whereas previous viral RNA tests took between one-and-a-half and two hours to provide a result, the research team has developed a new test, based on a technique capable of giving results in just half an hour – more than three times faster than the current method.

Prof Huang says: “The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) RNA and RNA fragments.

“The test has built-in checks to prevent false positives or negatives and the results have been highly accurate.”

In addition, the technology highly sensitive.

Therefore, it will enable patients in the early stages of infection to be diagnosed sooner, potentially helping to reduce the spread of the illness.

The technology requires a simple heat-block which maintains a constant temperature for RNA reverse transcription and DNA amplification, and the results can be read by the naked eye.

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The simplicity of the technique makes it potentially useful in rural area or community healthcare settings.

The technology has been validated with real clinical samples at Shenzhen Luohou People’s Hospital in China. Shenzhen Luohu People’s Hospital has applied the rapid detection kits on 16 clinic samples, including eight positives and eight negatives, which were confirmed by conventional RT-PCR methods and other clinical evidence.

Test results using the rapid detection kits were all successful.

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Prof Zhanfeng Cui, the Director of OSCAR, says: “I am proud of our team that have developed a useful technology and can make a contribution in combating CoV-19, and we are very grateful to the hospital’s medical team led by Dr Xizhou Sun, Dr Xiuming Zhang and Dr Dan Xiong for their part in testing this new technology.”

The Oxford scientists are now working to develop an integrated device so that the test can be used at clinics, airports, or even for home use.

The project was initiated by Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR), a University of Oxford centre in Suzhou Industrial Park.

The experiments to develop the technology were performed in the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford.

Rapid testing has been highlighted as crucial order to halt the spread of the virus.

Speaking on Tuesday, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.

“Test every suspected case, if they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in contact with two days before they developed symptoms and test those people, too.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.”

The UK Government has said it will not be able to test everyone who is suspected of having Covid-19.

So far, testing has been prioritised for people in hospital for pneumonia, acute respiratory illness or a flu-like illness.

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