AsianScientist (Jul. 27, 2020) – Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a toaster-sized diagnostic system that can help patients get their COVID-19 test results within an hour. Called Epidax, the system was developed in two months by a ten-member team from the NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech), led by the institute’s Director Professor Lim Chwee Teck.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is currently the gold standard for COVID-19 diagnosis due its high accuracy and ability to detect active infections. However, results can take up to a day or more, depending on conditions at test laboratories, and reagents are increasingly in short supply.
Instead of traditional PCR, the Epidax system uses a specially designed microfluidic chip that can process smaller amounts of sample. It also uses a reagent that enables both RNA extraction and amplification on the chip, thus bypassing the intermediate step of RNA extraction. All these features significantly minimize sample handling and shorten the test and waiting time, so patients can get their test results in about an hour.
“We have designed the Epidax system to be very easy to use. The lab technician operating the system only needs to pipette the sample and reagent into the microfluidic chip and load it into the Epidax system for processing. These simple steps can be easily executed within five minutes,” Lim said.
The team validated the Epidax system against existing PCR systems, and found that the Epidax system has the same or even higher sensitivity than some of the current PCR systems. In fact, the system can detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA in samples with at least ten copies of RNA per microliter of sample. The team is currently improving the limit of detection, aiming to reach one copy of RNA per microlitre of sample.
The NUS team has filed a patent for this invention, and is in talks with a medical technology company to commercialize this technology.
“Moving forward, we are keen to further develop our portable micro-PCR diagnostic system that can even be deployed at home,” Lim added. “For example, it can resemble a small capsule coffee machine: portable, affordable, easy to use, and we can insert different ‘capsules’ to test for a variety of diseases. With the current advances in science and technology, I believe this is highly achievable in the near future.”
Source: National University of Singapore.
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