Researchers unveil quicker alternative to PCR tests

Researchers at Polytechnic University said on Tuesday that they had developed a new portable device offering a faster and more convenient way of testing for Covid-19 than traditional PCR tests in laboratories.

Using gold nanoparticle and RT-LAMP technology, the new device can detect the virus in both human and environmental samples as accurately as a PCR test does, researchers said.

“We all know that as a gold standard, RT-PCR has a very high sensitivity and specificity as the gold standard. And what we would like to highlight now is that our method also has the same sensitivity and specificity as the gold standard,” said Thomas Lee, a lead researcher and an associate professor at the university’s department of biomedical engineering.

While it takes about two to four hours to obtain the result of a PCR test, the device can test up to four samples together in around 40 minutes or less, with the results sent to a smartphone via bluetooth.

Lee said while their testing method is not as quick as a rapid antigen test, it is more accurate.

The portable and easy-to-use design of the device means it could be used in a wide range of settings, such as clinics, care homes, airports, schools and quarantine centres, researchers said, rather than being confined to laboratories.

Lee added that they believe tests carried out with the device will be at least 50 percent cheaper than a PCR test.

The HK$2.7 million research project was funded by the Food and Health Bureau in 2020.

Lee said the team is now looking for partners, including private companies and governments, to roll out the device to the market.

He added that they are now in talks with an international company to see how the device can be used for testing environmental samples.