What We Know About The Two New 90-Minute Covid-19 Tests
When it comes to testing for Covid-19, there are two new kids on the block: LamPore and DnaNudge. But what are they, how do they work, and who can benefit from them?
The two tests, which give results in 90 minutes, are to be rolled out in healthcare settings in the coming months. They can detect both Covid-19 and flu, which will be invaluable come winter when the NHS faces the burden of seasonal illness.
How does the LamPore test work?
The test works to identify an active infection in a person, rather than testing for antibodies, which would tell a person if they’ve previously had Covid-19. The LamPore test is similar to the current PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which people have to do by swabbing their nose and tonsils.
LamPore uses a method called RT-LAMP to identify coronavirus in a sample – either from nasal and throat swabs, or saliva – and then amplify it.
The fact it also takes samples from saliva is an exciting step, because experts believe saliva testing to be a more accurate way to test for the virus than swabs, as there’s less room for error. It’s also more comfortable to spit into a tube than have your nasal passage and tonsils scraped with a swab.
Once the sample is taken, it’s tested using something called sequencing technology, which identifies the virus. It takes just 60 to 90 minutes for the results to come through. In comparison, the existing PCR swab tests take between 24 and 72 hours to process.
Why is it faster?
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and expert in molecular oncology from Warwick Medical School, says the test is faster because it uses a different technology to analyse the samples.
The current technique involves processing samples through multiple cycles at different temperatures to get a result, he says, while the new way of testing gets straight to the point. “It’s rapid because you don’t need to perform the analysis on the same sample multiple times,” he explains. “The amplification technique can be performed all at the same temperature, unlike the current technique which requires processing through cycles at different temperatures.”
The new test is similar to the existing swab test in the way it picks up the virus. It can be used to process swabs in labs, as well as on-location through ‘pop up’ labs. A desktop machine can process up to 15,000 tests a day, while a mobile version can process up to 2,000 tests a day.
The existing swab test, however, has to be sent off to specific labs for analysis.
Who will be able to use it?
Almost half a million (450,000) of the new LamPore tests will be available from next week in NHS laboratories, with the government promising “millions more” tests will be rolled out later in the year, including in care homes.
“This is a positive step,” says Prof Young. “But we really need near-patient testing – a test that could be used and analysed at a place of work or airport, for example – so that local outbreaks can be rapidly and effectively managed. The LamPore technique could be used on-location, but is not so simple that it can be operated without technical expertise.”
A spokesperson for LamPore tells HuffPost UK they are looking into getting pop-up labs up and running in the community.
For now, the at-home testing kits and drive-through test sites will continue to use the existing PCR tests, which are estimated to be around 75% accurate. That means for every 100 people tested who are actually infected, you’ll miss, on average, 25 people as they will come out as false negatives.
What about the DNA test?
A new test that uses DNA to detect coronavirus will be rolled out in hospitals from September, with 5,000 DNA machines, supplied by DnaNudge, providing an estimated 5.8 million tests in the coming months.
The tests will be able to look for the virus in nose swab samples, to provide a positive or negative result for Covid-19 in 90 minutes.
Unlike LamPore, DnaNudge can be done on-site without a “pop-up lab”. It uses a miniature analyser – the swab sample is inserted into a cartridge and then straight into the ‘NudgeBox’ for analysis. The test can also detect flu and it eliminates “false negative” results by testing for inadequate swabbing.
Professor Chris Toumazou, CEO and co-founder of DnaNudge and founder of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “We have been able to successfully adapt our DNA testing technology – which identifies genetic risks for chronic conditions related to obesity and type 2 diabetes – and validate it for detecting Covid-19 with gold-standard accuracy.”
“The opportunity to have this highly accurate test is helping us provide the highest quality care for our patients.”- DR GARY DAVIES, HOSPITAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF CHELSEA AND WESTMINSTER HEALTHCARE NHS FOUNDATION TRUST
“The opportunity to have this highly accurate test is helping us provide the highest quality care for our patients“– DR GARY DAVIES, HOSPITAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF CHELSEA AND WESTMINSTER HEALTHCARE NHS FOUNDATION TRUST
The machines can process up to 15 tests each on the spot each day. They are currently being used in eight London hospitals, located in cancer wards, A&E and maternity wards to protect those most at risk.
Dr Gary Davies, hospital medical director of Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said the test is particularly useful in areas “where speed of testing has the most impact for patients”.
“The opportunity to have this highly accurate test – without the need for a laboratory – is helping us provide the highest quality care for our patients and support for our staff, and offers the best chance of tackling the biggest challenge that the NHS has ever faced, particularly now as we look ahead to the winter flu season,” he said.
Do we still need more testing?
Modelling by researchers at University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests a second wave in the UK might be avoided with increased levels of testing in schools, and effective contact tracing and isolation.
Dr Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, who led the study, said: “Our modelling suggests with a highly effective test and trace strategy in place across the UK, it is possible for schools to reopen safely in September. However, without sufficient coverage of a test-trace-isolate strategy the UK risks a serious second epidemic peak either in December or February.”
She urges the government to ensure that test-trace-isolate capacity is scaled up to a sufficient level before schools reopen.
Prof Young also points out there are quicker tests out there that could be looked into: “What happened to the more rapid, 20-minute OptiGene test that was being evaluated in Hampshire?”