Canadian researchers develop new COVID-19 rapid test

The test is still in development, and will potentially be available in 2021. (Courtesy of Pixabay)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, researchers from York and two other Canadian universities have developed a low-cost alternative to the virus diagnostic tests already in use.

Researchers from York, the University of Toronto, and the University of Calgary have collaborated to create a COVID-19 antigen test that may provide results in less than two minutes. The test makes use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced biosensor technology to detect the presence of the virus in neutrophil cells quickly and accurately. It allows for the diagnosis of asymptomatic patients as well.

“Fast, reliable, and inexpensive testing is an important tool in the fight against COVID-19,” stated Professor Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh of York’s Lassonde School of Engineering, who is leading the research team. “Our platform will also be highly portable and able to reach vulnerable populations across Canada and around the world.” 

The test, which is just the size of a pregnancy test, only requires the user to provide their saliva in order for the test to detect the virus, foregoing the invasive nasal swabs currently prevalent in testing kits across Canada. 

Amir Sanati Nezhad, associate professor at the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Calgary, says that testing of the device is already underway, and has reaffirmed its efficacy and affordability.

“We just started clinical testing of our sensors and it has demonstrated to be above 85% sensitivity and selectivity. It can be a low-cost and point-of-care device for COVID-19 detection. In mass production, it is expected to be less than $5 per unit,” says Nezhad.

“Given the quantitative measure, it will not only measure COVID-19, but also determine the time of infection as well as the stage of the disease. With some modification, it can also monitor the level of immunity once it is coupled with an IgG/IgM antibody test.”

However, he emphasized that it may be a while before their project will be widely distributed. “Given the path to Health Canada approval, in the best scenario it will be accessible to the market starting July 2021.”

Health Canada approved the first antigen rapid test for use in the country on October 6. However, given the ever-increasing case numbers across the country and accompanying testing backlogs, there has been more pressure on the regulatory body to approve more tests. As of November 20, there are 100 COVID-19 testing devices awaiting approval. 

The government has also cautioned that rapid testing does not replace lab-based testing, instead supplementing the test capacity to meet demand for tests across the country.

Nezhad also highlighted the device’s ability to determine the nature and progression of the patient’s COVID-19 infection.

“Given the quantitative measure, it will not only measure COVID-19, but also determine the time of infection as well as the stage of the disease. With some modification, it can also monitor the level of immunity once it is coupled with an IgG/IgM antibody test.”

The test developed by these researchers is expected to be released by July 2021, subject to Health Canada approval. With its wide range of capabilities and ease of use, it is possible that  — along with numerous other tests and vaccines currently in development — it may help health authorities understand the virus’s properties more clearly and further prevent its spread.

About the Author

By Diego Vargas

News Editor

news@excal.on.ca

Diego is a communications student at York University’s Glendon campus. As a Filipino international student, he is deeply passionate about issues affecting racialized and immigrant communities, as well as LGBTQ+. Through his writing, he hopes to shed light on these issues within a Canadian context. In his free time, Diego likes to play guitar and learn new languages.

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