Researchers at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) have just got funding to develop a saliva-based screening test which can detect COVID-19 in minutes.
The new test will mean rapid detection. It will be affordable and rolled out nationwide. The cheap, on-the-spot testing and the speed of the results indicate it will play a significant role in reducing the spread of COVID.
The funding was awarded as part of a rapid research response funding call published jointly by Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA (SFI-EI-IDA).
Current testing is expensive, slow and labour intensive
AptaGold is the name of the proposed screening assay. Led by Dr Niamh Gilmartin and Dr Steve Meaney, it will be a saliva-based, instrument-free approach for the detection of COVID-19 which is “cost-effective and readily scalable”.
“Current diagnostic tools are expensive as they rely on the use of genetic approaches and require equipment, reagents and trained diagnostic staff,” says Dr Meaney. “Our solution meets the urgent need for a cheap, on the spot and sample-to-result screening option using an easily available saliva sample. As specialised training or equipment is not required to complete the proposed new test, it might find use in workplaces, airports and other travel hubs as well as in low-resource environments where there are insufficient laboratory services.”
Production of the tests can be scaled up
SARS-CoV-2 viral particles are present in the saliva of infected individuals, says Dr Niamh Gilmartin, a biochemist and expert in Biomedical Diagnostics at TU Dublin. “AptaGold, our proposed screening assay, is based on mixing patient saliva samples with specially selected DNA strands called aptamers. These strands are linked to tiny gold particles, and if COVID-19 virus proteins are present, these particles bunch up, leading to a visible colour change in minutes. Aptamers can be produced at a much lower cost than antibodies, so the production can be easily scaled up to meet demand in Ireland and abroad.”
Saving time and saving lives
Dr Gilmartin says testing, isolating and contact tracing are vital to arresting COVID19 and timely; accurate results will significantly reduce the timelines and save lives.
“AptaGold is designed to be a first-line, screening system for those who require immediate treatment and isolation, both in the healthcare sector and in the general population. By providing a simple and inexpensive near-patient test system, this approach will reduce wait times for sample collection and test results.”
People could take the test every morning
Rapid identification of infected patients will improve clinical decision-making. “The system can support rapid intervention and therefore, reduce the spread of infection. This is important as we continue to open up the economy and society – employees could take the test every morning to quickly find out if they should self-isolate or not and it could be helpful for people to manage their travel plans,” says Dr Meaney.
AptaGold and the project team
AptaGold is a multi-agency project led by TU Dublin with collaboration with Dublin City University, Trinity College Dublin St. James’s Hospital, Beaumont Hospital, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the National Clinical Programme for Pathology.
Technological University Dublin (core assay development)
Dr Niamh Gilmartin, Biochemist & Molecular Diagnostics, Technological University Dublin
Dr Steve Meaney, Medical Biochemist, Technological University Dublin
Mr Brian Henderson, Bioengineer, Technological University Dublin
Dr Andrew Knox, Structural Biochemist, Technological University Dublin
Dr Marcus Maher, Nano-biochemist, Technological University Dublin
Dr Carla Surlis, Bioinformatician, Technological University Dublin
Dr Aine Balfe, Medical Microbiologist, Technological University Dublin
Dr Celine Herra, Medical Microbiologist, Technological University Dublin
Dublin City University (device design and development)
Dr Rohit Mishra, Fraunhofer Project Centre, Dublin City University
Mr Darren MacAuley, Fraunhofer Project Centre, Dublin City University
Clinical collaborators (clinical validation)
Trinity College Dublin/St James’s Hospital
Dr Ignacio Martin-Loeches, St. James Hospital and Trinity College Dublin
Beaumont Hospital/Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI)
Dr Mary Keogan, Clinical Lead, National Clinical Programme for Pathology & Consultant Immunologist, Beaumont Hospital
Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, Consultant Microbiologist, Beaumont Hospital and RCSI
Dr Eoghan De Barra, Consultant Infectious Disease Physician, Beaumont Hospital and RCSI