Smartphone-sized COVID-19 test kit developed by UAE’s Khalifa University

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Khalifa University
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A compact COVID-19 testing kit, no larger than the typical smartphone, has been developed by a group of researchers from Khalifa University.

The testing kit is portable and the results of the diagnosis will be available in 45 minutes, while at the same time being cost-effective.

The primary investigator for the project is Dr. Anas Alazzam, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and member of the System on Chip Center (SOCC) with Dr. Habiba AlSafar, Director of the Center for Biotechnology at Khalifa University and Associate Professor of Genetics and Molecular Biology, as co-principal investigator. Postdoctoral researchers Dr. Waqas Waheed and Dr. Sueda Saylan, along with Research Associate Hussein Kannout, are part of the research team.

Even though PCR testing is always very accurate and considered as the standard method for detecting viruses, it can be complicated to use. To provide a rapid, sensitive, and precise detection of the COVID-19 virus, the researchers at KU used the Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification process (LAMP). It is more active and uses primers that target two definite regions of the viral RNA than the traditional PCR manner. The majority of PCR procedures depend on thermal cycling to begin the RNA replication process, where the reactants are subjected to repeated heating and cooling cycles.  Although laboratory PCR tests need a programmable thermocycler, a simple heat block can be used to conduct LAMP, making it much more accessible for portable testing.

There is no need for any specialized tools for the KU testing kit, as the kit manages COVID-19 detection straight from the swab of a patient.

The outcome is shown by a simple color change: yellow for positive, pink for negative.

The kits remain useful even after the pandemic is over because it can be used for any virus detection primer. If the viral sequence identified, the primer for detecting infectious agents can be easily produced. So if a new virus appears, the KU team will be able to detect the disease with this PCR test.