NUI Galway receives grant to develop handheld device for rapid Covid-19 testing

Aerial shot of NUI Galway. Photo: NUI Galway

Device could be used to carry out rapid on-site tests in airports, workplaces and schools



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16 November 2020 | 0

Researchers from NUI Galway and the University of Wyoming have received a grant of €199,720 from the Health Research Board to develop a handheld device for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The device, which the researchers said will be available early next year, will also test for antibodies to the virus in human samples.

The test device is already being sold and the research team are currently developing a Covid-19 test to work with it to produce and distribute large quantities within a short period of time. The test will be capable of being administered by anyone, even those without medical or scientific training, meaning it could be used to carry out rapid on-site tests in airports, workplaces and schools.

Samples can be collected from saliva, nasal swab or blood, which are placed in glass vials and inserted into hand-held instruments for analysis.




Prof Gerard Wall of Microbiology, College of Science and Engineering and SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices (CÚRAM) at NUI Galway, is leading the research along with Prof Patrick Johnson and Prof Karen Wawrousek from the University of Wyoming’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Prof Wall will employ a laboratory-based technique that mimics the human immune response ‘in vitro’, or in a test tube, to produce antibody fragments for use in the detection of the virus. The antibody fragments will enable high sensitivity and reproducibility of the device and can be produced in large quantities in bacterial cells.

Prof Johnson and Prof Wawrousek will attach the antibody fragments to nanoparticles for incorporation into a hand-held, battery-operated device that will carry out rapid detection of the virus using a laser, in approximately 15 minutes.

“Rapid detection of the virus on-site will allow potentially infectious people to be identified so that decisions on isolation and treatment can be made immediately,” said Prof Gerard Wall, NUI Galway. “There are clear applications for this type of device in airports, workplaces or schools, among other locations.”

Prof Patrick Johnson, University of Wyoming, added that the test will “have higher sensitivity than other rapid tests and will not require any sample preparation. The idea is to have an accurate, portable, on-site test with results within 15-20 minutes. This will allow rapid answers while the person is still present, enabling immediate intervention and treatment.”

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