Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have developed a one-minute coronavirus test they hope will be used to help authorities more quickly track and identify the spread of the virus at a significantly lower cost than current testing.

According to the university, the test works by collecting particles from a simple breath test or throat/nose swaps, which are then placed on a chip with a dense array of metamaterial sensors. From there, the system analyzes the sample and provides a result within a minute via a cloud-connected system.

In clinical trials in conjunction with Israel’s Defense Ministry on more than 120 patients, the test had a 90 percent success rate compared to Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. The ongoing trials will seek to determine if the test can identify the specific stage of COVID-19 infection, as well as its presence.

“Right from the beginning of the trials, we received statistically significant results in line with our simulations and PCR tests,” says Professor Gabby Sarusi, deputy head for research at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a faculty member of the Electro-Optical Engineering Unit at BGU.

“We are continuing clinical trials and will compare samples from COVID-19 patients with samples from patients with other diseases to see if we can identify the different stages of the COVID-19 infection,” explained Sarusi.

The breath-test device developed by Professor Gabby Sarusi at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Credit: Professor Gabby Sarusi.

The researchers hope the quick test and results can help authorities track the course of the virus, as well as triage and treat patients.

“We asked ourselves since this virus is just like a nano-particle or a quantum dot with a diameter between 100nm to 140nm in terms of its size and electrical properties, can we detect it using methods from the worlds of physics, photonics and electrical engineering,” posed Sarusi.

“We discovered that the answer is ‘yes,’ this virus resonates in the THz frequency, and spectroscopy in these frequencies reveals it promptly,” he said.

Each test kit would cost between $50 and $100 to produce, which is far less than current laboratory tests based on amplifying and identifying viral RNA sequences, which depende on costly reagents and biochemical reactions.

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