Early detection of people infected of the novel Coronavirus has become an imminent challenge around the world as the epidemic continues to develop. Now, a new device can significantly reduce the time it will take.
A team of researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) recently invented a portable 2019-nCoV detection device that can detect the virus in just 40 minutes from sampling to testing.
The team said on the HKUST website that this is the world's fastest compared to the currently-used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology which takes between 1.5 to 3 hours.
PCR technology is a molecular biotechnology used to amplify specific DNA fragments for the extraction of viral RNA, and the speed of temperature change is the key that determines the efficiency of the DNA's amplification process, meaning the faster the temperature rises, the shorter the device can come up with a test result.
Unlike conventional large-scale PCR devices which use semiconductor to heat up testing samples, the team led by WEN Weijia from HKUST's Department of Physics developed a novel silicon-based micro-heater module for the purpose, the team said.
The micro-heater, which has lower thermal mass and a better thermal conductivity, could speed up temperature rises to around 30℃ per second from an average of 4-5℃ per second in conventional PCR devices, greatly reducing the detection time.
Leveraging on Shenzhen Shineway Technology – a biotechnology startup company co-founded by Wen and his doctoral graduate GAO Yibo, the team started this research immediately after obtaining the new coronavirus sequence on January 20 and came up with the testing kit within a week.
The new device is already in use by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, while two more sets were being delivered to the CDCP in Hubei and Nansha, the team said.
The detection device uses standard rapid testing tools such as those used for influenza: a quick screen is used to take a sample of the nasal cavity, which is then put into the analyzer to determine the result.