Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have created a new rapid Covid-19 test that can deliver precise results within 15 minutes.

The test combines electrochemical biosensors and engineered protein constructs to enable fast identification pieces of the virus with an accuracy normally only achievable using slower genetic techniques.

The test can be carried out in a point of care setting using unprocessed blood or saliva samples without requiring preparation of specimen or processing in a centralised diagnostic laboratory.

KAUST biochemist Raik Grünberg said: “The combination of state-of-the-art bioelectronic hardware, materials science engineering and synthetic biology protein design really makes it possible to simplify and accelerate coronavirus testing.”

The test begins with a virus-specific nanobody, a binding protein that can stick to fragments of various coronaviruses, including the Covid-19 virus.

This nanobody is attached using various biochemical linkers to a thin layer of gold, which on passing electric current, controls the electricity flow via the semiconducting film it is linked to.

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By GlobalData

If any nanobody-bound viral proteins are present, the flow is changed, generating a signal that can be amplified to levels measurable with a device called an organic electrochemical transistor.

Grünberg along with KAUST colleagues are working with commercial partners to modify their lab-scale prototype to develop a bench-top, portable device that can be used for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

At present, Covid-19 testing is conducted by identifying viral ribonucleic acid using genetic means, which is slow and includes enzymatic amplification of trace molecular signals, or by viral protein detection, which is quick but less accurate.

As against traditional genetic testing, the speed, adaptability and performance of the latest test indicate its potential to complement or replace existing tests for Covid-19 and any other future pandemics.