Posted on March 18, 2020 by staff

COVID-19: Oxford scientists develop rapid testing tech


Scientists from the University of Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have developed a rapid testing technology for the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

The team, led by Prof. Zhanfeng Cui and Prof. Wei Huang, have been working to improve test capabilities as the virus spreads internationally. The new test is much faster and does not need a complicated instrument.

Previous viral tests took up to two hours to give a result while the Oxford research team’s new test is capable of giving results in just half an hour.

Prof Wei Huang said: “The beauty of this new test lies in the design of the viral detection that can specifically recognise 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.”

Additionally, the technology is very sensitive.  This means that patients in early stages of infection may be identified sooner, potentially helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The technology only 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. This makes it potentially useful in rural area or community healthcare centres.

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 8 positives and 8 negatives. The test results using the rapid detection kits were all successful.

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.