As we prepare for post-pandemic recovery, it is clear that various forms of virus tests will continue to be necessary well into the future. An accurate and convenient COVID-19 testing device might contribute to a less stressful life in the post-pandemic era.


An interdisciplinary research team from PolyU has recently announced that it has developed a fast and accurate device for testing COVID-19 that can be operated outside the laboratory, without sacrificing reliability.


Weighing only 2kg and equipped with a built-in power source, the newly-invented handheld device is designed to provide highly sensitive SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA detection based on the combination of reverse transcription–loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) and gold nanoparticles (as amplification result readout reagent). Importantly, the clinical sample test results were in full agreement with the reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) standard.


The portable and rechargeable features of the device enable the entire testing procedure to be conducted in a more time-efficient and convenient manner. Once the samples have been collected, tests can be run on-site using the device, without the need to return the samples to the laboratory. Real-time data and test results are analysed by a mobile App and displayed on the screen of the phone. The entire test can be completed in about 40 minutes, and the test results can be visually recognised (precipitate in positive samples, while remain dispersed in negative samples).


Prof. Christopher Chao, Vice President (Research and Innovation) of PolyU, expressing his appreciation of the research team added, "We are grateful to the Food and Health Bureau for their trust in PolyU, allowing us to leverage our interdisciplinary strengths to contribute to the Government's anti-pandemic measures, and translate research outcomes into real-life applications, bringing about benefits to the community."


Prof. Yip Shea-ping, Professor and Head of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics of PolyU who lead the research, remarked that, “Using gold nanoparticles as the amplification result readout reagent is the key to the success of this research. We are pleased to see that our method has attained excellent sensitivity and specificity, on par with the current PCR 'gold standard'.”


Key member of the research team, Dr Lee Ming-hung Thomas, Associate Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering of PolyU, added that, “Both human and environmental samples can be tested in this device. Besides SARS-CoV-2, other viruses and bacteria can also be detected using this device (with redesigned primers).”


The team is working on its next steps to transfer the research outcomes to society by collaborating with industry players, hoping thus to extend the use of such technology to help benefit the wider community, in locations such as airports, quarantine facilities, homes for the elderly, clinics and schools, where accurate results are needed within a short period of time.