Significant step forward in creation of COVID-19 diagnostic tool

University of Warwick scientists develop detection using a model virus rather than just proteins

Scientists are one step closer to creating a potential new diagnostic tool for COVID-19

Scientists at the University of Warwick have demonstrated that a potential diagnostic tool for detecting COVID-19 using sugars will work with a virus rather than just its proteins, a significant step in making it a viable test in the future.

Coronavirus diagnostics currently require centralised facilities and collection and distribution of swabs and results are ‘next day’.

But a new diagnostic tool being developed by the University of Warwick and its partner, Iceni Diagnostics, may enable on-the-spot detection of coronavirus infection without facilities and using a simple disposal device.

The researchers detailed their technique in a pre-print paper announced earlier this year, but have now presented additional results in a paper for the journal ACS Central Science, published by researchers from the University of Warwick, University of Manchester, and Norwich-based Iceni Diagnostics.

The new tool uses glycans (sugars) to detect the virus, using a tool very similar to a home pregnancy test.

The diagnostic proof of principle has been demonstrated in initial studies, but the partnership is now searching for investment or philanthropic donors to take the concept forward.

Professor Matthew Gibson, who holds a joint appointment between the Department of Chemistry and Warwick Medical School, explains: “Our team has now been able to show that this detection technique works with a ‘pseudotyped virus’; a safer-to-handle alternative which mimics SARS-COV-2.

“This further demonstrated that the diagnostic format can detect actual viruses not just the isolated proteins from its surface.

“The additional results have allowed us to fine tune the system more, and learn more about how we can optimise the detection limits and exactly how a sample needs to be introduced to the device, which is crucial.

“Our next stage is patient samples and understanding how sensitive the device is and really thinking how it might be used alongside existing diagnostic tools.”

He added: “The rapid detection of the virus, for both healthcare and to enable society to return to normal, is crucial.

“And our technology, developed through joint PhD student work with our industry partners, makes use of glyco-nanomaterials to detect a specific portion of the coronavirus.

“The technology is straightforward, and extremely low cost as the kit is paper based.”

Professor Robert Field, co-founder and chief executive of Iceni diagnostics, said: ”Combining our expertise has enabled us to move this project along rapidly - including initial clinical evaluation.

“We look forward to extending our working relationship with Warwick to explore diagnostics for other infectious diseases based on carbohydrates and glycopolymers.”

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