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18th August 2022

University of Birmingham discovers new COVID-19 diagnostic testing method

From the onset of the pandemic, there has been ceaseless research on improving the testing methods for SARS-CoV-2. Many types of tests are used to detect the virus, and their performance characteristics differ. Some tests provide results rapidly while others may take 1-3 days for processing. Some must be performed by trained personnel in a laboratory, some can be performed at the point of care, and others can be performed anywhere.

An advanced diagnostics technology to manage the current pandemic and mitigate future healthcare challenges.

The Tests vary in their sensitivity and specificity and sometimes can give false-negative results or false-positive results. When this happens, a repeat test may be required.

Test Types

Viral tests, such as Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAATs), antigen tests, and other tests are used as diagnostic tests to detect current infection with SARS-CoV-2 and to inform an individual’s medical care. These tests can also serve as screening tests to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by identifying infected persons who need to isolate from others.

Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAATs) such as Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction are highly sensitive and specific in detecting one or more viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) genes and indicating a current infection. Viral RNA can stay in a person’s body for up to 90 days after they test positive. Therefore, Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests should not be used to test someone who has tested positive in the last 90 days. Although NAATs are being performed at the point of care, most of them need to be performed in a laboratory.

Antigen tests identify the presence of a specific viral antigen. Compared to NAATs, they are less sensitive and less expensive, however, they have similar specificity. Although they can be performed anywhere, negative results should be treated as presumptive.

Other diagnostic tests, such as breath tests may be used to detect SARS-CoV-2 from non-traditional respiratory specimens. These test results are presumptive and may require confirmation by NAAT.

Most test types have some downsides to them, necessitating significant upgrades. The government and concerned bodies have, over the years, increasingly invested in creating better test methods or improving on the current ones.

The University of Birmingham’s Testing Methods

A testing method Known as Reverse Transcription-Free EXPAR (RTF-EXPAR) testing has recently been developed at the University of Birmingham and is set for a global rollout following its commercial rights being licensed to COVID-19 test provider, Innova Medical Group.

The method delivers a fast, accurate, highly sensitive and simple test for COVID-19, and can be performed anywhere. It offers detection in as little as 10 minutes. This method rapidly amplifies small quantities of viral genetic material, producing a detectable signal within such a short time. The RTF provides speed beyond that of lateral flow tests, PCR, and LAMP testing, avoiding the slower, reverse transcriptase-based technologies.

RTF-EXPAR amplifies DNA at a single temperature, consequently avoiding lengthy heating and cooling steps found in PCR. Nevertheless, while LAMP also makes use of a single temperature for amplification, RTF-EXPAR is a simpler and more direct process in which much smaller strands are amplified. This makes RTF-EXPAR an even faster technique than not only PCR but also LAMP.

The test is as sensitive as both PCR and LAMP tests which are based on nucleic acid detection and are currently used in hospital settings, but faster and more sensitive than lateral flow tests.

Currently, getting test results requires samples to be sent to specialist laboratories. However, this RTF-EXPAR testing can be used with testing techniques which bypass the need for laboratory equipment, thereby reducing delays in waiting for test results.

This new testing platform is also being considered for the detection of other viruses, which means that the tests can be quickly adapted to cover both new variants and new viruses.

To provide effective, high-quality diagnostic products at reasonable prices to more people around the world, Innova Medical Group, the technology’s new license holder, seeks to accelerate RTF-EXPAR’s global rollout for widespread use by 2023.

The chief executive officer at Innova Medical Group, Robert Kasprzak said:

“Our team has been searching globally for advanced diagnostics technologies to manage the current pandemic and mitigate future healthcare challenges. We were deeply impressed by the RTF testing method and all it has to offer. The team behind it deserve enormous credit for their innovation.”

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