Researchers are developing a COVID-19 test that uses a smartphone microscope to analyze saliva samples to deliver results in ten minutes.

University of Arizona researchers are developing a COVID-19 test that combines the speed of an antigen test with the accuracy of the polymerase chain (PCR) test. It uses a smartphone microscope to analyze saliva samples to deliver results in ten minutes.

Biomedical engineering professor Jeong-Yeol Yoon, who led the team of researchers, said that they have also adopted a method that they had developed to detect noroviruses that can detect the coronavirus as well.

This new test uses a smartphone, a microscope, and a piece of microfluidic paper, which is a wax-coated paper that guides the flow of the liquid through specific channels.

According to Clinical Omics, anyone who can use a smartphone should be able to use the new COVID-19 test.

Incorporating Mouth Rinse Method in A COVID-19 Test

The Jerusalem Post reported that the new COVID-19 test uses a mouth rinse method that was developed by the university’s head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Michael Worobey that makes people gargle and spit sterile saltwater into a cup instead of using the swab.

The mouth rinse method has been proven to be more sensitive than the swab test for detecting 20% more patients than the swab method.

Lane Breshears, a biomedical engineering doctoral student in Yoon’s lab, said that they have outlined the method so that other scientists can replicate it and create a norovirus-detecting test. “Our goal is that if you want to adapt it for something else like we’ve adapted it for COVID-19, that you have all the ingredients you need to basically make your own device,” Breshears said.

Cheaper and Simpler Detection of the Virus

According to the press release of the University of Arizona, the smartphone-based COVID-19 test is cheaper than the traditional methods for detection. The latter is often expensive because it needs a large suite of laboratory equipment or requires scientific expertise to conduct.

On the other hand, the smartphone-based method uses a smartphone, a simple microscope, and microfluidic paper. In total, all the components of the university’s detection method only cost about $45, which makes it cheaper.

Moreover, the university also said that the new method s simpler to use as described in the 2019 paper published in the journal ACS Omega. The users introduce antibodies with fluorescent beads to a potentially contaminated water sample then if pathogens are indeed present in the water sample, antibodies will attach themselves unto each particle.

Using a microscope, the user could see clumps of fluorescent beads which are the pathogen particles. Users can count the number of beads present and take a smartphone photograph of it under the microscope.

All in all, the process could only take up about 10 to 15 minutes to complete making it so simple that Yoon said even nonscientists could learn how to do it by watching a brief video.

The testing described in the 2019 study is being improved, like creating a 3D-printed housing for the microscope attachment and microfluidic chip. Also, they added an adaptive thresholding that uses artificial intelligence to set the danger threshold and account for environmental changes.

The researchers are planning to partner with the university’s testing facilities for COVID-19 detection. Their ultimate goal is to distribute the device to campus hubs so that even an average person could test saliva samples from groups of people and mitigate the further spread of the disease.

Originally published at The Science Times