News

21st April 2020

University’s rapid test could be used ‘in weeks’

A rapid test for detecting Covid-19 has been developed by scientists at the University of South Wales.

The team has also created a portable device which can produce an accurate result in 20-30 minutes without having to return a sample to the laboratory.

The test and device are already being evaluated by the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and could be in use at its care homes within weeks.

The health board said results were “looking excellent” so far.

The University of South Wales (USW) test uses different chemicals to the current accredited test, allowing the university to avoid bottlenecks in the global supply chain.

News of its possible rollout comes after First Minister Mark Drakeford was forced to admit at the weekend that the testing system has not “been good enough” in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said his government would not reach its previous target of 5,000 tests a day by mid-April.

Recent data shows fewer than 1,000 tests a day have been conducted by Public Health Wales laboratories.

Despite this, health managers are looking for additional ways of testing their staff and USW worked with Cwm Taf to develop its new test.

Dr Emma Hayhurst said her team at the university had adapted an existing technique to produce the new test.

“We’ve been working with molecular technology for about three years for the diagnosis of urinary tract infections,” she said.

“And then obviously, when this global pandemic happened, we realised very quickly that we could adapt the test for use to detect infection with Covid-19.”

The test involves taking a nasal swab, which is immediately sealed to reduce cross-contamination or further spread of the virus. A machine then examines the swab for traces of the virus’s DNA.

During the evaluation of the new test, NHS staff members suspected of contracting coronavirus in the Cwm Taf area have been asked to provide two swabs – one for the accredited Public Health Wales test, and a second for the new USW test.

This process has helped to confirm the accuracy of the USW test, with the university saying the results suggested a “strong correlation” between the two tests.

The USW team also developed a prototype handheld device for analysing swabs, allowing for mobile testing in places like care homes and hospital wards.

Dr Hayhurst said: “The beauty of our test is that it’s really, really appropriate for point-of-care [testing], and that’s really exciting because that’s what we’re missing at the moment in our testing response. It requires very little or no sample processing.

“And it doesn’t require sophisticated lab equipment. In fact, we’ve made a little prototype device that can eventually be employed for point-of-care that costs less than £100 to manufacture.”

The device and the test are nearing the end of their evaluation with the health board and could soon be deployed to some of its 80 care homes.

The health board’s innovation manger, Dr Tom Powell, said it had been part of the urgent response to the pandemic.

“This is a really unique situation and this whole process has been very quick,” he said.

“The results are looking excellent. We need to do some evaluative work over the next couple of weeks, but if funding comes through, we should be able to push this out.”

Dr Powell said the portable test would be used alongside other testing methods.