Infectious Diseases

Updated 14 October 2020

New testing method can diagnose Covid-19 in 30 minutes

A new type of technology developed by researchers at POSTECH in South Korea can detect SARS-CoV-2 in just 30 minutes.

  • Currently available Covid-19 tests are reliable, but may take days to yield results
  • Researchers from a South Korean university have developed a new testing method
  • The diagnostic kit, known as SENSR, can deliver results in just 30 minutes

Results from currently available tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, can take anything from a few hours to several days to become available.

Earlier this year, test result delays were causing concern among doctors, News24 reported, as this meant that infected people who should have been self-quarantining were instead putting others in danger while awaiting their results.

However, researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) have developed a new test that diagnoses infected patients in just 30 minutes.

The joint research team comprised of Professor Jeong Wook Lee and PhD candidate Chang Ha Woo, along with Professor Gyoo Yeol Jung and Dr Sungho Jang of the Department of Chemical Engineering at POSTECH.

Together, they developed a SENSR (SENsitive Splint-based one-pot isothermal RNA detection) technology that allows anyone to easily diagnose Covid-19, based on the RNA sequence of the virus.

The test will come in handy at particular locations, such as airports. Many countries worldwide have strict rules that require all travellers to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. With the implementation of a test like SENSR, people travelling to other countries and end up testing negative for Covid-19 won’t have to self-isolate.

The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering

PCR test vs. SENSR

The reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction test, or RT-PCR test, is the most common diagnostic test used to identify people infected with SARS-CoV-2. It works by detecting viral RNA in a person’s cells (often collected from their nose).

The test produces highly accurate results,  but entails a slow, complex preparation process to extract the virus. It also requires expensive equipment and skilled experts.

In the case of the SENSR test, the POSTECH researchers carefully designed the portable test kit (that requires no preparation process) to produce a nucleic acid binding reaction to show fluorescence only when Covid-19 RNA is present.

Due to this, the virus can be detected immediately, and is as accurate as the PCR test.

What’s great about the SENSR diagnostic kit is that it can be designed and produced within a week, and can be used for new infectious diseases as well.

Development can ensure proactive response to pandemic

If this testing method is introduced, it will be hugely beneficial in allowing onsite diagnosis.

More than this, considering millions of tests will still be conducted in the near future, the test will also allow for a more proactive response to Covid-19 by supplementing the current centralised diagnostic system, the researchers believe.

"This method is a fast and simple diagnostic technology which can accurately analyse the RNA without having to treat a patient's sample," said Wook Lee in a news release by POSTECH.