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One-hour COVID-19 test being trialed at hospitals around London

Faster testing could allow more people to go back to work or permit testing on a more regular basis and could help Prime Minister Boris Johnson achieve his target of 200,000 tests a day, an important element in successfully ending the lockdown

May 23, 2020 / 09:46 PM IST

A COVID-19 test that gives results in just over an hour and which requires no laboratory, potentially allowing for swifter testing of much larger numbers of people, is being rolled out at a number of London hospitals after getting regulatory clearance.

As Britain tries to ramp up testing to help revive the stalled economy, it is still mainly using laboratory tests that take around 48 hours to produce a result and either require people to travel often long distances to regional testing centres or receive by post at home.

Faster testing could allow more people to go back to work or permit testing on a more regular basis and could help Prime Minister Boris Johnson achieve his target of 200,000 tests a day, an important element in successfully ending the lockdown.

The new test, based on the design of a DNA test developed by a professor at Imperial College London, received approval for clinical use by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the end of April after successful trials.

With a sensitivity of over 98% and specificity of 100 percent, the DnaNudge test is being rolled out in cancer wards, accident and emergency, and maternity departments, as a prelude to possible wider application.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The health ministry said it was a pilot scheme and that other lab-based tests were also being run in order to look at the benefits and capabilities of each test. Britain's National Health Service is also using other point-of-care machines to test for the virus.

Britain made an initial order of 10,000 DnaNudge cartridges in March and has procured another 70,000 since. The price of the disposable cartridge tests is around 40 pounds ($49).

"It is a lab in a cartridge effectively," said Chris Toumazou, a professor of engineering at Imperial College who developed the test. "The key is that with this test you go straight from a saliva swap or a nasal swab into the cartridge with no transport and no laboratory."

"You can even look at such small fragments of the RNA (Ribonucleic acid) that you can check whether a patient is coming out of it or going into COVID," Toumazou said.

The test, which requires one nostril swab, is being rolled out at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, West Middlesex University Hospital, St Mary's, and at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital.

"This test does work and is actually more sensitive than some of the lab tests," Dr Gary Davies, hospital medical director at the Chelsea and Westminster, told Reuters. He said the test was being used for patients coming into hospital to help decide on which ward to place them.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
Reuters
first published: May 23, 2020 09:40 pm

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