The power of technology: a world-class most comprehensive rapid, automated multiplex diagnostic system to identify up to 40 infectious respiratory pathogens (including COVID-19) in a single test within 1 hour has been developed by PolyU

Date:11 Feb 2020

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) announced the development of the world's most comprehensive automated multiplex diagnostic system (the System) on 11th Feb 2020, which includes a fully automated machine and a multiplex full-screening panel for the point-of-care genetic testing (POCT) of respiratory infectious disease including COVID-19. Infectious diseases represent an important portion of global public health concerns, in particular with regard to the current global outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The challenge of frontline diagnosis in hospitals, clinics and ports is that infectious diseases could exhibit similar symptoms or can be asymptomatic.

Most Comprehensive Rapid, Automated Multiplex Diagnostic System

In one single test and within approximately one hour, the System can identify 30 to 40 pathogens including seasonal influenza viruses, such as influenza A subtypes H1, H2 and H3, avian influenza viruses H5, H7 and H9, human respiratory syncytial virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and COVID-19.

Leveraging the current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, the system is fully automated from sample nucleic acid extraction and amplification, to signal detection and analysis. The System adopts patent-pending microfluidic and biochemical technologies that achieve ultra-sensitive detection (down to 5 gene copies) and simultaneous differentiation of various pathogens with extremely high specificity. It is also user-friendly, with manual handling not being required throughout the testing process.

"Early and accurate detection of pathogens could contribute to effective and efficient disease control and management, and prevent spreading of any contagious pathogens. The existing challenge is that we lack full panel POCT technologies for early and on-site diagnosis, which should ideally be capable of differentiating between different pathogens at the same time," said PolyU Professor Terence Lau Lok-ting, Director of Innovation and Technology Development and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology.

Ir. Professor Alexander Wai Ping-kong, Vice President (Research Development), Deputy President and Provost designate of PolyU said, "In this difficult and challenging time that Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, and even the global community is encountering, it is important that the research community can quickly pool their expertise and resources to develop practical solutions. The PolyU-HKU partnership is a prime example of effective coupling of multidisciplinary innovation and translation." The research team for this project is led by PolyU Professor Terence Lau Lok-ting and supported by HKU Professor Yuen Kwok-yung. In the past year, the team has optimised the System and conducted trials on different clinical samples. In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, the team has also conducted tests on clinical samples using the system.

Professor Yuen commented, "The System's versatility and capability will provide for comprehensive monitoring during disease outbreaks or routine surveillance. It will become a crucial technology for ensuring the effective control of infectious diseases, medical diagnosis, and treatment."

"This fully automated, quantitative rapid diagnostic platform possesses a proprietary technology which overcomes limitations of existing technologies by ensuring sensitivity – and hence significantly enhancing the reliability of test results. Most importantly, our innovation can substantially reduce the cost of the microfluidic cartridge manufacturing thus making it feasible for wide adoption. It is ready for mass-scale production," added Professor Lau.

The research team has received indispensable support from a local biotechnology company Avalon Biomedical Management Ltd for this project. We believe this advanced point-of-care diagnostic system can revolutionize the current diagnostic paradigm and provide a powerful tool to fight against infectious diseases," said Dr Manson Fok, Chairman of the Board of the company, Executive & Trust Committee member of Macau Henry Fok Foundation and Dean of Faculty of Medicine, Macau University of Science and Technology.

Towards this end the research team will continue to urgently focus on developments to ensure the system's robustness and cost-effectiveness, and to collaborate with relevant parties on clinical trials, regulatory approvals, and frontline applications of this POCT system.

We thank you for the generous support from the community which fosters further development of the automated multiplex diagnostic system.

“The PolyU research team is going in the right direction, so please do not be put off by overtaken by ever evolving new technology. If the system (automated multiplex diagnostic system) fills a need, it deserves to be developed.”
– The Lo Family

“The novel coronavirus have impacted the global community and our daily life. As an alumnus, I hope to support the worthwhile research projects of PolyU, which brings positive changes to the world.” 
– Ms Liu Mei Chui, Applied Science and Textiles graduate (Alumnus)

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