On-the-spot coronavirus test within spitting distance


Professor Dayong Jin, left, and his UTS team, Dr Jiajia Zhou, Associate Professor Olga Shimoni and Associate Professor Majid Warkiani. Photo by Toby Burrows

A COVID-19 test that will provide results within minutes, easing the way for borders to reopen, is set to be manufactured in Australia for Australian use.

Mass testing that is fast, non-invasive and able to identify cases before people show symptoms holds the key to boosting COVID-19 detection, improving contact tracing and managing disease outbreaks.

In an Australian first, scientists at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have used novel optical technology to design a highly sensitive saliva test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus antigens, or viral protein fragments. The test can deliver a positive result in under 15 minutes.

The rapid antigen test collects saliva in a cartridge placed in an existing hand-held device, first developed by Perth company Alcolizer for illicit drug testing. Customised iStrip technology measures the viral load in the saliva sample, even at very low levels, and displays the result on the instrument’s small screen. This device has GPS location technology and integration to cloud reporting tools to assist with contact tracing.

The test bypasses the time-consuming molecular amplification currently in use. With the quick turnaround of results and a cost of less than $25 per test, it would allow testing rates to increase.