Engineers at Harvard University have designed a small tabletop device that can detect SARS-CoV-2 from a saliva sample in about an hour.
In the earliest study, they demonstrated that the diagnostic is just as precise as the PCR tests now used. It can also distinguish the older variants from the new ones that are circulating such as the delta variant. This information can be earned within an hour, making it easier to track different variants of the covid.
"We demonstrated that our platform can be programmed to detect new variants that emerge, and that we could repurpose it quite quickly," says James Collins, the Termer Professor of Medical Engineering "In this study, we targeted the U.K., South African, and Brazilian variants, but you could readily adapt the diagnostic platform to address the Delta variant and other ones that are emerging."
The new diagnostic, can be compiled for about $15, but those costs could come down significantly if the devices were produced at a large scale, the researchers say.
The system includes an RNA guide strand that allows detection of specific target RNA sequences and Cass enzymes that cleave those sequences and produce a fluorescent signal. All of these molecular components can be freeze-dried for long-term storage and reactivated in the presence of water.
Our goal was to create an entirely self-contained diagnostic that requires no other equipment," Tan says. "Essentially the patient spits into this device, and then you push down a plunger and you get an answer an hour later."