Kitchener-Waterloo

UW researchers developing 20-minute COVID-19 spit test

 A team of researchers at the University of Waterloo is developing a unique, biodegradable COVID-19 test that detects results in less than 20 minutes using saliva.

Researcher says device is biodegradable, time-saving and cost-effective

The COVID-19 test is a paper device that partially turns red if the virus is detected. (Submitted by Sushanta Mitra)

 A team of researchers at the University of Waterloo is developing a biodegradable COVID-19 test that can deliver results in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom. 

The team is working on a paper device that can be spat on, as opposed to a swab inserted through the nose or down the throat, said researcher Sushanta Mitra. 

Mitra is co-lead researcher of the project, run by the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, where he is executive director.

He said the device will be a "game changer."

Right now, he noted people have to wait several days to receive test results.

A faster test could help people who are infected isolate immediately, Mitra said. The product, which is currently being tested, will also be inexpensive and easily mass produced and deployed, he said.

How it works

Mitra, who is also a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, says once the saliva hits the paper, it flows through the strip.

If a person is positive, it will trigger a particular chemistry that links with the COVID-19 spike protein. That will then bind together with nanoparticles to trigger a red colour. If a person is negative, the paper will remain blank.

Researchers are busy coming up with the working prototype of the test so that clinical trials can begin in about six months. (Submitted by Sushanta Mitra)

Mitra hopes the test will be used in all kinds of places, from entertainment halls to pharmacies.

"What this type of test does is empower people, so individuals can do it at the home, in the office, in the school, in larger congregate gatherings," said Mitra. 

One natural setting could be a concert, he said. 

"You can put an individual in a holding zone where you do this rapid testing, and in 20 minutes the person gets the clearance and can attend the concert safely," he said.

He said it's also critical for contact tracing, especially in hot spots where public health officials can use the rapid device to prevent further spread of the virus.

The team of researchers is working with industry partners to get the device out in what Mitra describes as a "public-private partnership."

He hopes a working prototype will be available in six months, when clinical trials are set to begin. If proven successful; the device will be made available for market in about a year.

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