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Work underway on Aussie 15-minute COVID tests

Australian researchers say their coronavirus test, which can deliver a positive result in under 15 minutes, is set to be manufactured in Western Australia.

Scientists at the University of Technology Sydney used novel optical technology to design a highly sensitive saliva test for SARS-CoV-2 virus antigens, or viral protein fragments.

Called iStrip, the technology is sensitive enough to detect the presence of as little as a trillionth of a gram of SARS-CoV-2 viral protein, the team said.

To test a person, the iStrip technology would be placed an existing device developed for illicit drug testing, and measure the viral load in the saliva sample before displaying the result on the instrument’s screen.

UTS Professor Dayong Jin and his team have a prototype ready and plan to start laboratory tests before the end of the year.

Jin said: “Currently, a PCR swab from the nose or throat is being processed in the lab over a day or more, meaning valuable time is lost in finding, testing and isolating those known contacts of people who are infected with the virus.”

He added that currently available antigen tests are authorised for use only within the first seven days after the onset of symptoms.

“They are not sensitive enough to effectively screen people who are showing no signs of illness. They also produce a number of false negative results,” he said.

“Short of a vaccine, our best hope for containing community transmission and returning to some sort of normal life lies in a fast, highly sensitive and accurate testing regime. We believe our technology will help to realise that ambition.”

The research team said the test could be used in high-risk or high-traffic areas like airports, hospitals and aged care facilities, as well as workplaces.

It would cost around $25 per test. The technology will be manufactured at industry partner Alcolizer’s facility in Balcatta, Western Australia.

Last week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson detailed plans to manufacture millions of 15-minute coronavirus tests.

Johnson said: “We’ve already bought millions of these tests…

“We’ve started building the infrastructure for domestic manufacture of these tests, ensuring that Britain has the ability to produce millions of fast tests here.”

Johnson said the UK would start distributing and trialling the tests across the country in coming weeks and flagged a focus on care home staff.

In September, the Queensland Government announced it gave XING Technologies $1.5 billion to fast track its own rapid test, called XavTrap.

The test for COVID-19 – a product of researcher from Professor Matt Trau at the University of Queensland and the CSIRO – involves the bioengineering of a yeast molecule, which is coated in Velcro-like particles that the virus can stick to and then combined with strip technology.

The Queensland Government said the company plans to develop a test that could detect the virus within 5-10 minutes.

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