Professor Anders Wolff

Devices for rapid diagnosis of coronavirus under development

Wednesday 25 Mar 20

DTU and Statens Serum Institut are developing three new and rapid instruments for on-site diagnosis of coronavirus. Two of them are scheduled to be ready for emergency use in Denmark by October. They will make the response of the health care system even more effective and ensure fewer people in quarantine.

The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has been shut down, but Professor Anders Wolff continues on working. He heads the project CoronaDX, in which researchers develop three new measuring instruments capable of performing fast on-site diagnosis of coronavirus. Professor Dang Duong Bang from DTU National Food Institute, who is part of the project, also keeps his laboratory open for business. Project partner, Professor and Chief of Virus R&D Anders Fomsgaard from Statens Seruminstitut (SSI) also continues on working because two out of the three instruments are scheduled to be ready for emergency use in October, when the next wave of COVID-19 is expected to hit Denmark. The third instrument is scheduled to be ready in March 2021..

Several research teams are working on a vaccine, but it will be 1-2 years at best before it is approved for use. In the meantime, it is essential to develop technology able to quickly separate healthy people from infected people, thereby delaying the spread of the virus as much as possible.

Taking the pressure off hospitals
The fastest instrument will give the diagnosis in less than one minute. The slowest in less than an hour. All three instruments are being designed to be very easy to use - much like a pregnancy test. They can therefore be used in clinics or at home and provide an immediate diagnosis. This enables on-site testing, which saves both time and resources related to transportation and analysis, thereby decreasing the pressure on the central test laboratories. The risk of hospital staff being infected is also reduced, as the infected can be quarantined immediately.

Quarantine-affected persons will also be able to get an immediate diagnosis. If they are not infected, they can then resume their normal lives and work right away. That means more working people to keep the country running as normally as possible during an epidemic. 

Professor Anders Fomsgaard from Statens Serum Institut is responsible for the development of two of the instruments, including the fastest one that gives the result in less than one minute. He is certain that the speed and ease of use of the new instruments could increase the effectiveness of the healthcare system's response to any future epidemics:

“A quick simple test easy to perform and without significant costs to the person, can become a new tool for diagnosing disease, infection potential and prompt recovery notification. The technique can be used in a wide range of other viral diseases in patients who are best diagnosed outside of hospitals. ”

" In October, we expect to have a permit for emergency use in Denmark and thus be ready for the possible second wave of coronavirus."
Professor Anders Wolff, DTU Bioengineering

Rapid development
Under normal conditions, such a development would take several years, and Professor Anders Wolff from DTU Bioengineering, who heads the project, says that this project is developing unusually fast:

“It’s quite clear that the research community is acutely aware that this is a very special and serious situation, and we work together as colleagues across countries and organizations rather than as competitors. That is why there are so many publicly available RNA sequences for COVID-19, and that is one of the reasons we are able to work as fast as we currently do.”

The three new instruments measure in three different ways in order to recognize the virus, and the technology itself is the absolutely newest in the field. The researches themselves have very recently developed it in another EU funded project called VIVALDI, which is aimed at detecting diseases in poultry. Ander Wolff elaborates:

“The measuring instrument itself is ready. What we need to do now is to develop new reagents—that is, the substance that must react with the virus and thus show whether a person is infected. The epidemic is so serious that our research is covered by emergency regulations, which is why we are allowed to test our equipment in the field at a much earlier stage than usual. As early as June, our two Chinese partners will test two of the instruments in the field in China. In October, we expect to have a permit for emergency use in Denmark and thus be ready for the possible second wave of coronavirus.”

The European Union supports CoranaDX with 3 million Euro (DKK. 22,4 million) through the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation (project 101003562). VIVALDI is also supported by the European Union through the Horizon 2020 programme (project 773422).

The three coronavirus detecting instruments

De tre instrumenter

PATHAG
PATHAG is a simple handheld instrument developed by SSI. We use specially designed antibodies to detect if there is a coronavirus in the sample. The result is available in less than 1 minute. Therefore, it will be particularly good for screening large groups of people, such as at airports or trains. PATHAG is expected ready for use in March 2021.

 

PATHPOD
PATHPOD consists of a portable instrument developed by DTU. It contains specially designed microchips, called lab-on-a-chip, i.e. a laboratory study encoded into the microchip. The sample is placed on the chip, which analyses by measuring the biological reactions, and the result is available om a computer or a tablet in 30 minutes. Expected ready for emergency use in October 2020.

 

PATHLOCK
PATHLOCK is designed for use outside hospitals, e.g. at airports or other nodes. It is a quick diagnostic test that requires a minimum of equipment or sample treatment requirements. The result is ready in under an hour. SSI is responsible for the development of PATHLOCK. Expected ready for emergency use in October 2020.

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