Responding to the European Commission’s Express Calls to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, photonics scientists are developing a new rapid, non-invasive ‘optical biosensor’ demonstrator that will detect Covid-19 in humans as soon as it is present in the body.
Having already created six working laboratory demonstrators for other applications, the research team says the technology still needs further adaptation and testing but could be available in a year at the latest. Originally developed to look for bacterial infections or cancer biomarkers, the new ultrasensitive detector uses photonics to detect infections in patients with a small amount of the virus.
With the ability to diagnose in real-time with high specificity from a low concentration sample, the sensor is much more reliable than the coronavirus rapid-test, ‘finger-prick’ kit which detects if a person has had the coronavirus before and has since recovered.
Looking at tiny molecules, the new point-of-care detector examines virus antigens using miniaturised chips – or ‘nanophotonic biosensors’ - from a simple nasal or saliva swab. Once a sample is prepared and is in place, the device confirms a positive or negative for coronavirus instantaneously. However, allowing for preparation time and analysis, a result - from sample to diagnosis - may take up to 30 minutes.