Simon Fraser University researchers have validated a faster, cheaper COVID-19 test kit that could kickstart the expansion of more widespread rapid testing. Study results have been published in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.

“This research offers a cheaper, faster alternative to the most reliable and sensitive test currently used worldwide, without sacrificing sensitivity and reproducibility,” says molecular biology and biochemistry professor Peter Unrau, who led the team evaluating the research-use-only COVID-19 test kit.

The researchers suggest the test could potentially be deployed in remote locations, clinics, and airports due to its ease of use and portability.

The microchip real-time PCR COVID-19 Detection System can provide accurate results in 30 minutes and requires 10 times less reagent than the tube-based RT-PCR tests approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Supply chain shortages of reagents and test kits during the pandemic have slowed the rapid expansion of clinical testing. This new COVID-19 test kit is another tool in the toolbox that uses less of the supply-constrained reagents to achieve fast and accurate results.

Unrau, along with PhD candidate Razvan Cojocaru and Master’s student Iqra Yaseen, first evaluated test sensitivity in the lab.

Then the test kit was sent to a clinical team at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to determine its ability to detect COVID-19 in patient samples. The microchip PCR COVID-19 test kit results aligned with hospital testing results—demonstrating its effectiveness.

The kit comes preloaded with COVID-19 primers and probes, making it easy to use, thereby reducing the potential for user error and improving the reliability of test results.

The COVID-19 detection kits developed by Lumex Instruments Canada and validated by Unrau’s team are low power (100 watt), compact, lightweight, and available internationally.