A new coronavirus test developed by the University of Cambridge for NHS frontline workers can diagnose infection in just four hours, compared to the usual 24.
Experts found a way of ‘deactivating’ the virus, meaning it can be tested in lower security labs, therefore speeding up the process.
The new test is already being used in one hospital, Addenbrooke’s Hospital – which is part of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.
It means that NHS frontline workers currently self-isolating without knowing if they have the virus could return to work a lot quicker if tested negative to help ease the strain on the NHS.
Just like existing methods, the test is done via a nasal swab with the diagnosis process happening much more quickly due to the less stringent security methods. This means the whole process takes just four hours from beginning to end.
‘Polymerase chain reaction’
During the test scientists use a PCR – Polymerase chain reaction – to extract a minuscule amount of genetic code. They then copy it millions of times, creating enough material to detect the virus.
Professor Stephen Baker at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease is the expert behind the new method.
“PCR tests for coronavirus infection are slow because of the safety requirements necessary for handing this potentially lethal virus,” he explained.
‘Swab to result speed’
“Now that we are able to inactivate it, we can dramatically improve the turnaround time from swab to result.
“This will be extremely useful in helping test NHS frontline staff and helping clarify whether self-isolating healthcare staff are infected or negative, potentially allowing them to return to work.”
At the moment the lab has adequate reagents, the chemical substances used to detect the virus, to allow testing of 200 samples a day, five days a week, for the next 10-12 weeks.
It’s hoped that researchers can increase the amount of tests soon, which can then be rolled out across the country to help the NHS in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
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