University of São Paulo: Develops rapid covid-19 test for mass testing

Biosensor for rapid testing of covid-19 developed at USP’s São Carlos Chemistry Institute is low cost and reveals whether the person already has antibodies 

Researchers from USP’s São Carlos Chemistry Institute (IQSC) developed a rapid test for covid-19, costing approximately R $ 30. Up to five times cheaper than the conventional tests found in pharmacies, which today are sold for around R $ 140, the device was created to facilitate mass testing in Brazil. The technology will also be able to reveal whether the person who took a certain dose of vaccine has already produced antibodies.

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Called Covid-19’s Popular Test , the device analyzes a drop of blood taken from the patient in search of antibodies to detect the disease. The strategy used to lower its production was to optimize the amount of material inputs and use nanoparticles to locate the antibodies. Developed at IQSC, these nanoparticles have a probe molecule, which turns red when it comes into contact with an antibody. The molecule was obtained in partnership with BioLinker, a Brazilian biotechnology company.

According to Frank Crespilho, professor at IQSC and research coordinator, this method is very similar to those found in pharmacies. However, it is more accurate, cheaper, requires fewer reagents and can be produced entirely in Brazil. The professor says that his team developed the test in about four months, which is considered a record time. Now, according to Crespilho, the idea with the new technology is to favor the most vulnerable populations:

“We have to think about the Brazilian population, this is the role of USP. Every day I wake up happy to have the privilege of coordinating a team that is working tirelessly to produce high-level science. The proposal is to make a mass analysis of the population, at a much more competitive and viable cost for our economic reality. ”

Crespilho is coordinator of the Bioelectrochemistry and Interfaces Group at IQSC, coordinator of the MeDiCo Network, the Covid-19 USP / Capes Research Network, recently approved in a Capes emergency selection call, and vice-coordinator of the USP Advanced Studies Institute (IEA), São Carlos Pole.

The tests are already in the validation phase and, currently, the results are read and interpreted in approximately 10 minutes –

PhD student Karla Castro, from IQSC and researcher at the MeDiCo network, also participated in the study. “We are looking to innovate in technological aspects that allow tests to be carried out more quickly, without losing their selectivity and specificity. The testing procedure used in USP’s Covid-19 Popular Test is easy to perform and does not require laboratory structure. The tests are already in the validation phase and, until now, the results are read and interpreted in approximately 10 minutes ”, says the scientist.

The researchers explain that the new test has an innovative character, as it will be able to reveal whether the individual produced antibodies after receiving a certain dose of vaccine, and may help the doctor to identify the need for monitoring the patient in the immunization process. In addition, the device will also allow immunity tracking of virus variants.

Mona Oliveira, scientific head and founder of BioLinker, a partner company in the study, says that it will be possible, based on this first result, to develop new specific molecules and produce biotechnological inputs quickly, with low cost and high performance. “Our goal is to make the application of mass testing viable. Professor Crespilho’s group is an international reference in the development of biosensors and our collaborator in applied research and innovation projects. With the pandemic, we saw an excellent opportunity to participate in the development of bioligants (probe molecules) for the detection of coronavirus antibodies ”, concludes Mona Oliveira.

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