Technion researchers create rapid home testing kit for coronavirus

Team says it has achieved 99% accuracy and can rollout kits on a wide scale within a short time

Illustrative: Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Leumit Health Care Services branch in Or Yehuda, March 19, 2020. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at Leumit Health Care Services branch in Or Yehuda, March 19, 2020. (Flash90)

A team of researchers at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa is developing a home kit that it says would enable people to be quickly and inexpensively tested for the coronavirus, without the need for elaborate lab equipment.

According to a report in the Haaretz daily, the kit would only need two test tubes and a container with hot water. The team is claiming a 99% accuracy rate and says that the test yields results in less than an hour.

Microbiologist Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky, the lead researcher for the project, explained that the kit is based on existing materials produced by an American company that have been shown to be efficient at identifying the genetic material of the virus. The innovation in the Technion research is developing a protocol that enables adaptation for home testing with results in less than an hour.

Geva-Zatorsky told Haaretz that her lab is currently conducting further tests and that if they receive authorization from the Health Ministry they can rollout the kits on a large scale within a short time.

In the future, she added, it would be possible to adapt the protocol for other viruses and pathogens.

Testing is considered key to an exit strategy that will enable the entire economy to reopen. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set a goal of 30,000 tests a day but Israel had struggled to approach 10,000 tests a day until last week, due to a shortage of a key reagent for coronavirus testing.

The Health Ministry announced Friday that it had conducted a record 11,908 coronavirus tests the previous day, following a drop that saw between 6,000-7,000 in recent days.

Efforts to hit the target also received a further boost with the Foreign Ministry saying it had signed a deal with Chinese company BGI that will see the firm send lab equipment to Israel by the end of next week, allowing for some 12,000 tests to be conducted per day.

Once established, the BGI equipment will expand the scope to perform as many as 20,000 tests per day, the ministry said, adding that tests will be performed in Israel by Israeli companies selected by the Health Ministry.

BGI’s tests have been used widely in China and are being distributed to over 50 other countries and regions, the firm said. Results from the tests are available three hours after they are administered.

But according to a Channel 12 report earlier this month, Israel’s largest HMO had refused to work with the firm over concerns BGI and the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive information on its 4.9 million customers, including on their DNA.

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