Covid-19 test showing if someone is infectious wins IPEM member a prestigious award

A TEST showing if someone is infectious and which could help stop the spread of Covid-19 has won an IPEM member a prestigious award.

When China began lockdown, University of Oxford researchers at OSCAR (Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research), returned to the UK to begin work on a speedy test to identify carriers of Covid-19 and provide a result within 30 minutes.

The Oxford rapid viral RNA test, developed by a team led by IPEM member Professor Zhanfeng Cui, can detect whether a person is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is still infectious.

This has now won Professor Cui and his team a President’s Special Award for Pandemic Service from the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The awards recognise the contributions made by the engineering community in helping society address the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Oxford rapid viral RNA test does not require the use of specialist equipment and can be used by anyone. Users need only transfer samples from mouth or nose swabs, or saliva, into a test tube supplied with the test, containing all the necessary reagents. The test tube is then heated to 65°C for 30 minutes, after which results are shown by a simple colour change, allowing quick and easy interpretation.

This simple user experience conceals some clever science and engineering, including the direct use of swab and saliva samples without RNA extraction to eliminate the need for lab facilities. It also uses different reagents to existing tests, the high demand for which has led to a global shortage, impeding testing.

In place of the commonly used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) platform, the test uses reverse transcription loop-mediated amplification (RT-LAMP) to detect viral RNA. The team of Oxford University engineers overcame huge challenges to develop RT-LAMP into a robust, sensitive, specific and reliable method to detect SARS-CoV-2 and eliminate the common false positive issue and unspecified reactions.

The kits are formulated so they can be stored and supplied without being refrigerated and in a product format that is economical and readily deployable in quantity.

As no specialists are needed to operate it and results are easy to interpret, testing can be performed at GP clinics, schools and community centres, for example, and could even be used for self-testing at home.

Professor Cui, Professor of Chemical Engineering, said: ‘I am extremely proud of our team, who have demonstrated R&D competence, engineering innovation, great dedication and social responsibility. We are grateful to the University of Oxford, OSCAR and Oxford University Innovation for their support, with which we were able to develop a unique product within six months and contribute to the fight against Covid-19.’