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COVID-19 test on your smartphone? App claims it can detect virus in less than 30 minutes


Young woman using her mobile phone outdoors.

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

A smartphone app has been developed that detects COVID-19 in saliva in just 25 minutes.

The app uses the smartphone's camera to measure a chemical reaction for evidence of the virus.

It combines the speed and accuracy of antigen and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, respectively - at a fraction of the cost.

The technique is also among the most rapid, sensitive and scalable. It is so simple it can be carried out at home - and is free and available to all.

It has been described as a "potential game-changer" for pandemic control efforts.

The system can be readily adapted for other deadly variants - and even flu.

Lead author Professor Michael Mahan, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, said: "As new COVID-19 variants emerge globally, testing and detection remain essential to pandemic control efforts.

"Nearly half the world's population has a smartphone. We believe this holds exciting potential to provide fair and equal access to precision diagnostic medicine."

It is suitable for healthcare providers anywhere on Earth. Components cost less than $100 (£75) - for a smartphone, hot plate and LED lights.

A single screening works out at under $7 compared to up to $20 per rapid antigen test or $150 per PCR test, respectively.

Named smaRT-LAMP, a small amount of spit is collected and analyzed by the smartphone's camera. No additional specialty materials are needed.

Saliva, or LAMP, tests match the accuracy and sensitivity of gold standard PCRs - which are slow, expensive and not portable.

Further, they occur at a constant temperature, which is suitable for point-of-care and home-based testing.

couple of latin women doctors taking a photo selfie with a smartphone in a Mexican hospital in Mexico or Latin America
(Photo by Light and Vision via Shutterstock)

Douglas Heithoff, a graduate student in the lab, said: "The key finding was solving the LAMP 'primer-dimer' problem - false positives due to high sensitivity - which scientists have struggled with for more than 20 years.

"It took more than 500 attempts to solve it for COVID-19, after which flu viruses were detected on the very first try."

It can distinguish COVID-19 and the flu, which show very similar respiratory disease symptoms and sometimes lead to misdiagnosis.

Professor Charles Samuel, also of UC Santa Barbara, said: "SmaRT-LAMP can detect COVID-19 and can be readily modified to detect novel variants and other pathogens with pandemic potential, including influenza."

The free, custom-built app was developed for the Android operating system. It will be able to be downloaded and installed from the Google Play Store.

Professor David Low, from UC Santa Barbara, said: "We hope technologies like this offer new ways of bringing state-of-the-art diagnostics to underserved and vulnerable populations."

Upon opening the app, the user is presented with an option for a step-by-step tutorial prior to running test samples.

Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital\, said: "Rapid and affordable testing of vulnerable populations that are struggling with adequate vaccine and testing is critically important."

Added Dr. Jeffrey Fried, a critical care physician at the hospital: "Such early detection and quarantine can also reduce the risk of future global outbreaks."

The app is described in JAMA Network Open.

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