Sydney: Australian researchers have developed a test which can provide highly accurate readings for Covid-19 from a finger prick of blood within 20 minutes.
The point-of-care (POC) test, created by scientists from the Burnet Institute and the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, is the first of its kind in the world, according to the research unveiled on Wednesday.
While many POC tests can measure the overall level of antibody to SARS-CoV-2 and use this to estimate neutralising antibodies (NAb), the researchers say their test is the only one to measure NAb activity, which correlates with immune protection for Covid, Xinhua news agency reported.
Writing about their breakthrough in the journal EBioMedicine, the scientists note the versatile test can be adapted to provide information about whether a person has protective antibodies against a particular disease variant, such as Omicron.
The rise of the Omicron variant, which early studies suggest may be up to 40 times less sensitive to patient NAb than Delta, means that some people will suddenly go from having adequate protective NAb, to not having enough.
Burnet Institute deputy director Associate Professor David Anderson said the POC test could therefore be useful to quickly indicate when a vaccine booster was required.
“One of the key elements of the test is that it can work with finger-prick whole blood, which is essential if it is really going to be used at point-of-care,” Anderson said.
“Another advantage is we have demonstrated that we can readily substitute different variants into the test. While we have not yet tested Omicron, this will be simple enough to incorporate in our test in place of the original strain or variants we have tested.”
It would also provide a standardised test to assist in the safe reopening of national and international borders in the context of different vaccines and the variable responses among various populations.
The scientists expect that the test will become a new option for immunity screening to support vaccination and control programmes, particularly in time-critical situations and among impoverished or isolated communities where laboratory-based testing is difficult to access.
Now in its prototype phase, the scientists are seeking commercial partners to develop the manufacturing process and take the test to an international market.
Burnet Diagnostics Initiative (BDI) director Jennifer Barnes said the collaborative efforts of the two institutions had led to an outcome in “record time.”
“The BDI aims to enhance the translation of new technologies to practical health solutions through significant partnerships with academic collaborators and industry,” Barnes said.
“The NAb test is a great example of this as we look for a global partner to bring the test to market.”