Lancaster University: New rapid COVID-19 test being developed at Lancaster University to improve response to future outbreaks

A new COVID-19 test being developed at Lancaster University and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, together with Glyconics©,could have a huge social and economic impact and completely change the response in the travel and leisure industries, according to the team behind the project.

The project is looking to create a handheld device which requires a nasal or saliva sample to deliver an extremely accurate COVID-19 diagnosis within seconds. The device uses innovative infrared spectroscopy and with a proprietary algorithm, that can be Cloud-based, to identify the biomarkers which indicate the presence of the virus.

The portable devices could be stationed at the entrance to sports or concert arenas, or at airport check-in desks for people travelling abroad to provide almost instant reassurance for anyone flying or attending a busy event.

As the results are immediately entered into an online database, the system could also help give an accurate real-time picture of the prevalence of COVID-19 in a set geographic area – providing vital data for those working on the response strategy.

The project has been designed by Professor Ihtesham Rehman, Chair of Bioengineering at Lancaster University, and Professor Craig Williams, Consultant Microbiologist and Infection Control Doctor at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, in collaboration with Glyconics©.

Professor Rehman said: “This is an important project which could revolutionise the travel and leisure sectors’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic – and also help in monitoring any new mutations which may arise. Current testing for COVID-19 is either through Rapid Lateral Flow Tests, which have limited accuracy and may give rise to false negative and positive results, or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests that also have limitations.

“The PCR test requires laboratory capability, huge transportation and logistical requirements and takes a significant amount of time to deliver a result. Lateral Flow Test kits contain several single-use-plastic components and require several steps over fifteen minutes.

“With our new test we would be able to have a cost-effective handheld testing device somewhere like an airport check-in desk or entrance to a sports arena – or even at a GP practice, point of care facilities or at hospital and university entrances – which would be able to scan a sample and deliver a result almost immediately.”

The partnership with University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust will ensure the process can be tested using live human COVID-19 samples. Initial findings have been encouraging and the project is currently working on testing greater numbers of samples to strengthen the data before, ultimately, moving on to clinical trials.

Professor Craig Williams, Consultant Microbiologist and Infection Control Doctor at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Rapid and accurate COVID testing is essential to control the spread of the infection both in hospitals and the community. Our test will be quick, accurate and simple to perform and so can be used both for diagnosis and widespread screening in the population if needed.”

Following each test, the scanning area simply needs to be wiped clean so the devices can carry out thousands of tests and also drastically cut down plastic wastage created by current options.

Dr Niall Gallen, CTO at Glyconics©, added: “It is great to work with this team of experts in developing a true rapid point-of-care test for COVID, that has the potential to remove many of the logistical and practical problems caused by the testing requirements, for control of the virus.”

Glyconics© works in partnership with its preferred OEM infrared spectroscopy supplier Spectrolytic to provide solutions that are portable and easy to use, taking the measurement capability from the lab to where it is needed.