HONG KONG – A researcher at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) has developed a test that identifies those carrying the COVID-19 virus in less than a minute. And it is both affordable and works with greater than 90% accuracy to boot.

Gabby Sarusi, deputy head for research at BGU’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and a faculty member of the Electro-Optical Engineering Unit at BGU, came up with the idea. He and his team are currently validating the test.

The ongoing trials will be aimed at finding out if the test can identify not just the presence of the virus but also the specific stage a COVID-19 infection is at.

Clinical trials run in conjunction with the Defense Ministry on more than 120 Israelis have already found that it has an over 90% success rate. PCR test kits can take hours or even days to provide results with lab work required, requiring the shipping of infectious biological samples in already logistically challenged times. BGU’s device is able to be used as a point-of-care device, radically improving the time to provide results while also reducing logistical problems.

"Right from the beginning of the trials, we received statistically significant results in line with our simulations and PCR tests," said Sarusi. "We are continuing clinical trials and will compare samples from COVID-19 patients with samples from patients with other diseases to see if we can identify the different stages of the COVID-19 infection."

The test works with particles from a simple breath test or throat and nose swab, such as are already currently used for other COVID-19 tests.

These are then placed on a chip with a dense array of metamaterial sensors that was designed specifically for this purpose. The system then analyzes the biological sample and produces an accurate diagnosis within a minute, via a cloud-connected system.

According to the BGU researchers, the point-of-care device automatically backs up the results into a database that can be shared with authorities, making it easier than ever to track the course of the virus, the degree of urgency, and to treat patients.

Their newly developed method is based on the change in the resonance in the THz spectral range shown by the coronavirus through a THz spectroscopy performed on the device. The researchers say this spectral range has been employed in recent decades for the fast detection and identification of biological samples.

"We asked ourselves, since this virus is just like a nano-particle or a quantum dot with a diameter between 100 nm to 140 nm in terms of its size and electrical properties, can we detect it using methods from the worlds of physics, photonics and electrical engineering?" said Sarusi.

"We discovered that the answer is yes, this virus resonates in the THz frequency, and spectroscopy in these frequencies reveals it promptly," he added.

Moreover, the test could be available at a lower price than other methods and kits out there. The team estimates each test kit would cost between fifty to one hundred dollars to produce, which is far less than current laboratory testing.

The coronavirus test kits now in use depend on expensive reagents and biochemical reactions to amplify and identify viral RNA sequences, which can be quite costly and slow.

And because BGU’s test is electro-optical rather than biochemical in nature, it is also not sensitive to environmental factors that can affect results from current testing methods.

Sarusi’s development of his chip is part of the framework of BGU's Coronavirus Task Force, initiated by its president Daniel Chamovitz to tackle the different aspects of the pandemic.

A recent development under the BGU Coronavirus Task Force is an anti-coronavirus coating that can be sprayed or brushed on different surfaces.

BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU, told BioWorld that its coating is applicable for medical settings, as an anti-pathogenic substance in places with increased risk of contamination, such as hospitals.

BGN Technologies expects to have a prototype of the coating within a year and is seeking strategic partners for production and commercialization.

Another upcoming COVID-19 diagnostic tool from Israel is made by Bat-Call Ltd. The company is adapting its auscultation technology from pneumonia detection and monitoring to COVID-19. It has been collecting COVID-19 patients' lung sounds and aims to gear their diagnostic AI towards early detection and monitoring of COVID-19 patients.

“It is the only device in the world that analyzes body infra-sounds – clinical data that is not used by the medical community,” Doron Adler, the CEO and co-founder of Bat-Call, told BioWorld.

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