Validating and applying innovative technology to the detection of COVID-19
Building on previous work to test for hepatitis (B and C) and allergens, NPL developed a proof-of-concept graphene biosensor for detecting COVID-19. The approach was born from the virus testing procedure at the beginning of the pandemic, which was uncomfortable for the patient, expensive and had limited accuracy. It was also time consuming due to handling and transporting of samples, and required patient travel followed by separate communication of results back.
NPL developed a 10 x 10 mm prototype sensor which gave a rapid result and had the potential to be produced in large quantities and at low cost, allowing for wide scale population testing. Not only are these sensors very sensitive, they could also be connected to phones, watches or other smart devicesa to improve the understanding of how the virus spreads and assisting healthcare organisations in providing the best response. NPL is in the process of further testing this technology in partnership with PHE, Ploughshare and NHS laboratories, to understand the performance of the sensor in a clinical setting, prior to beginning the process to bring it into wider use.
The proof-of-concept works by detecting antigens in a sample, however the core of the technology is disease agnostic and has the future potential to detect a wide range of diseases, pathogens and health conditions.
NPL worked with a UK company that detects and helps manage diseases, such as diabetes, through observations of the eye. They use non-invasive sensors which have the potential to deliver quick and accurate tests. NPL extended this research to examine optical methods for detecting COVID-19 using handheld equipment, which require no microscope just sensors to monitor the response.
NPL also investigated developing instrumentation that would use surface enhanced RAMAN spectroscopy (SERS) to detect COVID-19, or indeed other viruses. The technique can detect singular molecules from samples of blood or saliva and could be exploited using smaller and portable instruments.
As the UK’s National Metrology Institute, it is NPLs role to validate new measurement techniques, as such it is ideally placed to collaborate with manufacturers to better understand the performance, repeatability and development of new diagnostic techniques.
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